In the same period of time that the House has been leaderless, Hamas launched a deadly massacre against Israel, with more than 1,000 Israelis dead and at least 22 Americans killed. Israel responded by bombing Gaza, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken traveled to the Middle East with the United States’ hostage specialist to seek the return of Americans held there.
With a “Day of Rage” suggested on social media in the United States Friday, security officials surged protections for synagogues in New York City, while Capitol Police announced they would conduct “enhanced operations” because of possible dangers there.
The only things House Republicans have managed to do in response are fight amongst themselves, gavel the chamber into session for seven minutes, and take Nancy Pelosi’s office away from her. It hasn’t been pretty.
The week started off on a high note, with Scalise and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan stepping up to run to replace McCarthy. The idea of Donald Trump becoming speaker had been miraculously squashed and a third candidate, U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern, stepped back to make it a one-on-one contest. So far so good.
But once Republicans flew back to Washington Monday to meet in person, the problems began to show. There was South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, one of the eight who voted to depose McCarthy, dramatically striding down the hallway toward one caucus meeting wearing a t-shirt with an enormous bright red “A,” on it.
“This is my scarlet letter after the week that I just had, being a woman and being demonized for my vote and for my voice,” she told a bank of TV cameras. “I’m here to let the rest of the world know I’m on the side of the people. I’m not on the side of the establishment.”
Mace voted for Jordan.
And then there was former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who continued to act curiously like a current speaker as he left the Tuesday caucus meeting early to walk toward a scrum of more than 100 reporters. With the rest of the caucus still hearing from Jordan and Scalise, McCarthy waxed on about leadership, American security, and the need to “leave no American behind.”
He later told another reporter, unhelpfully, that Scalise was far short of the 217 votes he would need to become speaker, even though he’d squeaked out a majority of the caucus in the secret ballot vote over Jordan. “It’s a high hill to climb,” McCarthy shrugged.
While the former speaker held court, the acting speaker, Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry, emerged from a side corridor. Slight and soft-spoken, the man in charge of the caucus had to squeeze unnoticed past the media scrum to get to the meeting he was in charge of. McCarthy continued on.
Some Republicans seemed to be picking a best friend instead of a speaker.
“I love Steve Scalise, he’s a good friend. But I’m also really good friends with Jim Jordan,” U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn, said outside the caucus room Thursday. “It’s a tough choice for me.”
And although Scalise looked healthy and strong this week, Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said she voted for Jordan because she wants the Louisianan to focus on his cancer treatments instead of running the House. “This is personal for me,” she said, explaining her father had died of cancer.
While Scalise continued to work the phones Thursday, a House staffer texted me to point out that McCarthy still has more support than any other Republican, even after being tossed. Maybe he should try again? Or how about U.S. Rep. Tom Cole? He’s not running but people like him, I heard.
With no easy path to a new speaker on the horizon by Thursday night, talk turned to the idea of simply giving McHenry more power, even though McHenry ascended to the position by being named to the spot by McCarthy in the first place.
The role of Pro Tem was modified after Sept. 11th to ensure that someone would be available to oversee the election of the next House leader should “the unthinkable” happen, a Democratic House staffer told me. But that unthinkable was a terrorist attack or murder of the sitting speaker, not an intra-party squabble that led to a coup by eight backbenchers.
The Republican making the most sense this week was Texas’ U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who warned as he left a follow-up meeting Thursday that his GOP conference is “playing with fire.” Without a speaker, they cannot pass aid to Israel or take any other proactive steps in the spiraling crisis.
“I just made the conference aware we are living in a dangerous world. … I see a lot of threats out there, but one of the biggest threats I see is in that room.”
Despite the chaos playing out in the caucus, there are also thoughtful members of the GOP who are beside themselves over the dysfunction among their own colleagues. But the House rules that McCarthy left behind have empowered the extreme and audacious over the thoughtful and concerned.
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter was visibly distraught at what the infighting is doing to the once-venerable legislative branch, not to mention what it could mean for Israel if the House remains powerless to help them.
And U.S. Rep. Austin Scott told CNN, “It makes us look like a bunch of idiots.” He’s not wrong. By Friday, Scott was so exasperated he ran for speaker himself, only to lose a secret-ballot vote about three hours later.
Luckily for the Republicans, this problem may eventually solve itself since their sheer inability to govern themselves may convince voters they can’t be trusted to govern the country either. In the next Congress, it may be Democrats who get to pick a speaker instead and they’ve already voted for theirs, unanimously.