McHenry is reluctant center of House Speakership storm

Speaker Pro Tem (R-N.C.) for weeks has been at the center of a storm that keeps threatening to propel him to the most powerful office in Congress — whether he wants that or not.

As the House GOP struggles for a third week to pick a new leader, Republicans have repeatedly voiced support for giving McHenry enough power to keep the gears of the House turning.

“It gives us a chance as Republicans to deescalate what has become a very emotional, difficult process of picking a Speaker,” Rep. Mike Flood (R-Neb.) said earlier this week.

The Speakership drama took several more turns after Flood spoke with The Hill, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) ending his bid for the Speakership on Friday after he lost a third vote on the floor — and after a majority of Republicans in a closed-door, secret-ballot vote said they wanted him to end his push.

The GOP will now return to Washington next week with a host of new Speaker candidates — and McHenry still serving as Speaker pro tem.

McHenry has repeatedly made it clear he does not want to be the Speaker.

“It’s my goal to be talking to you at this time next Friday as chairman of the Financial Services Committee,” McHenry said of the position he picked over a spot in House GOP leadership.

McHenry has been a close ally of former Speaker (R-Calif.) and was instrumental in winning the Speakership for the Californian in January.

He’s also helped McCarthy pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a shutdown.

McHenry passed on a clear path up the House GOP leadership ladder this year, choosing instead to chair the House Financial Services Committee.

He’s been eager to turn the gavel over to a permanent successor and said he is not interested in a long-term appointment, even as lawmakers say he’d make a good one.

Flood said McHenry’s reluctance is what made him a good candidate.

“That was the interesting thing about Patrick McHenry…I don’t think he wants to do any of this. He’s not angling for this. And that’s what makes him a perfect choice to get us through this very tough page,” he said earlier this week.

McHenry became Speaker pro tem after McCarthy put the North Carolinian first on a list of replacements in case the speakership became suddenly vacant, which occurred when eight Republicans joined with Democrats to depose him.

“I wanted somebody who had been a committee chair. I wanted somebody that wasn’t seeking the job…I wanted somebody that could work with all sides, and McHenry is ideal for all that,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday.

“If you watch him, he’s not seeking to be something. He believes in the continuity of government. He’s chairman of a substantial committee…He’s been here a number of years so he understands how things work. He has respect on both sides of the aisle.”

First elected to Congress in 2004, McHenry is one of few Republicans who can claim a Rose Garden shoutout from former President Trump and credibility across the House floor.

As chief deputy whip to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), McHenry played a critical role in marshaling support for Trump’s $2 trillion tax-cut law. McHenry’s help in achieving a decades-long GOP policy goal and cementing a key Trump legislative win also boosted his political stock among House GOP colleagues.

McHenry was a top candidate for House leadership after Republicans won back control of the chamber in the 2022 midterm elections. While McCarthy and Scalise were all but locked in as the conference’s choices for speaker and majority leader, McHenry appeared to have a clear path toward another key position.

McHenry, however, passed on the chance to join House leadership and opted to chair the Financial Services panel instead.

“When the early rumors were breaking back in January, there was a little shock. McHenry for years was positioning himself as a leadership guy and the climbing that ladder,” said Ron Hammond, government relations director for the Blockchain Association and a former House GOP financial policy aide.

McHenry became the top Republican on the committee in 2019 and developed a cordial, if legislatively fruitless relationship with then-Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). The 2022 midterm elections gave McHenry the chance to chair the committee and set its agenda, along with a powerful perch largely outside of the toxic battles roiling the House.

While McHenry fiercely supported much of Trump’s policy agenda and defended the president from Democratic criticism, he broke with his party — and McCarthy — by not voting against certifying the results of the 2020 election.

He has also steered clear of the culture wars and Hunter Biden probes at the center of Republican politics, focusing instead on long-term fixes for flood insurance, expanding financial technology and beating back Biden administration regulatory proposals.

“McHenry is an amazing legislator. He is a principled, tough, smart legislator and he has shown that through years and years and years of being in the fight,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a McCarthy ally who this week backed giving McHenry enhanced power.

“I have full confidence in McHenry for so many reasons to do so many different things.”

Most Republicans are opposed to giving McHenry expanded power, especially if it involves cutting a deal with Democrats for the necessary votes.

“He’s been good. He digs into the issues. I’m just saying in this role, I cannot support it,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.).

After Jordan’s bid ended, it appeared unlikely there would be new momentum to thrust McHenry into a temporary role.

But McHenry will serve as speaker pro tem until Republicans can find a long-term replacement, and all bets are off on whether any member of the GOP conference can win 217 votes on the floor.

So while it seems unlikely McHenry wil be a temporary Speaker, it can’t completely be counted out.

“Not wanting to be Speaker is often the best way to be Speaker,” wrote Brendan Buck, who was top aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as he was drafted into the position by Republicans in 2015.

Aris Folley and Emily Brooks contributed.

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