Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said he will back empowering North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, the House’s temporary speaker, to advance legislation while the GOP continues to squabble over who will lead the House.
Jordan, who is former President Trump’s pick for speaker but has twice failed to secure the post, made the announcement to his Republican caucus Thursday morning. The Ohioan said he would remain his party’s nominee to lead the lower chamber, allowing him to seek more support behind the scenes while McHenry serves in a temporary capacity.
The House empowering McHenry would be a satisfying twist for former speaker (R-Bakersfield).
On Oct. 3, a small group of Republican rebels voted with Democrats to oust McCarthy from the speaker’s chair. Before his ouster, McCarthy had picked McHenry, a longtime ally, to serve as speaker pro tempore in case one was needed.
But in the more than two weeks since McCarthy’s defeat, none of the Republicans who sought to permanently replace the Californian have been able to secure the simple majority required to seize the gavel, and his friend McHenry now appears poised to control the House — at least for a time.
McHenry would not comment on the plan Thursday morning. “Gonna go open floor,” he told reporters. “I have no comment. We’re having an active and vigorous conversation.”
Republicans hope that empowering McHenry would give the chamber the ability to address pressing issues, including approving additional aid for Israel, which is mounting an invasion of the Gaza strip following an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants. McHenry could also hold votes on military aid for the war in Ukraine and a stopgap bill aimed at delaying the Nov. 17 government shutdown.
The unprecedented move to empower McHenry brings with it a slew of questions about how to interpret historic House rules.
“What the powers are of the speaker pro tem is contested,” Molly Reynolds, congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told The Times last week. “We’re in uncharted, unprecedented territory here, and there are a number of different views.”
But Matthew Glassman, senior fellow at the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute, told The Times last week that lawmakers have a wide berth to make decisions: “The House is always in control of its own rules …. If push comes to shove,” and they can’t get a Speaker elected, “the House can change its own rules and do what it wants.”
For the two weeks he’s been in charge since McCarthy’s ouster, McHenry has interpreted his authority narrowly. But it’s already gone beyond just presiding over the election of a new Speaker.
“No one questioned that he could recess the House or that he could boot [Democratic Reps. Nancy] Pelosi and [Steny] Hoyer out of their offices” in the Capitol, for example, Glassman pointed out. Those are powers that come with the Speaker’s office.
McHenry’s empowerment could win support from both parties. Some Republicans who are adamantly against Jordan have said they would support a resolution empowering the North Carolinian.
Other Republicans were skeptical of the plan. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks told reporters the move “is the biggest FU to Republican voters I’ve ever seen.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York has said he is open to a temporary bipartisan solution to get the House functioning, but has yet to formally say where his caucus stands on empowering McHenry.
Republicans’ attempt to empower a temporary speaker follows weeks of internal warfare. After McCarthy’s defeat, the conference nominated Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise to replace him. But Scalise quickly pulled out of the contest when it became apparent he would not have enough votes to win. Jordan replaced Scalise as the party’s nominee, but failed to secure the gavel in two floor votes. During the first vote Monday, 20 Republicans blocked his bid. By Tuesday, that number had grown to 22.
More GOP lawmakers were likely to defect during a third floor vote. Jordan’s support on the second vote, when 199 Republicans backed him, was a modern low for a majority party’s nominee for speaker.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Evan Massoud is a political analyst with a knack for dissecting policy and governance. He provides readers with informed perspectives on political developments at home and abroad. Evan’s dedication to civic engagement extends to volunteering in local politics.