Texas Republican representatives diverge in backing for House speaker

Rep. Chip Roy of Austin nominated Byron Donalds in a fourth ballot on Wednesday.

By Rhonda Fanning & Gabrielle MuñozJanuary 4, 2023 1:21 pm,

Members of the 118th Congress can’t be sworn in, the House can’t set rules for itself, and bills and committee assignments are all on hold until a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives can be chosen. And despite having a majority in the House, Republicans have so far failed to elect a House speaker.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California has been unable to win a majority after four ballots. It’s the first time since 1923 that the House has failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot. And with more Republicans in Congress than any other state, Texas not only has a role in all this, it has an outsized stake in it as well.

Sean Theriault, a professor in the department of government at the University of Texas at Austin, said that Republicans need a majority of the members voting – 218 members – and have a small margin, with enough Republicans who don’t have much faith in McCarthy’s leadership.

“At this point, there’s about 20 of them who are not willing to vote for him. And if you subtract that 20 from the Republican column, you don’t get a majority. And so there we are,” he said.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, has been a major supporter of McCarthy and has had some harsh words for Republicans opposing him.

“Crenshaw referred to the 20 as the ‘Taliban 20;’ I’m not sure that’s the most effective strategy to try and get 20 recalcitrant members to vote for Kevin McCarthy,” Theriault said. “So some pretty harsh words.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, has been a critic of McCarthy. He voted for Byron Donalds of Florida on his first and fourth ballots – nominating Donalds on the fourth – and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio on his second and third.

“At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Chip Roy is ‘anyone but Kevin McCarthy,'” Theriault said. “Chip Roy has some pretty principled arguments, right? He wants the members in the House to have a little bit more freedom to offer amendments to bills, to have longer to view the bills before they’re forced to vote on them. And so at this point, he’s not voting for Kevin.”

» FROM KUT: Texas congressmen among Republican rebels voting against Kevin McCarthy’s speaker bid

Theriault said that Republicans’ reasons for not backing McCarthy vary.

“If you look at those 20 members who aren’t voting for McCarthy at this point, I mean, some of them are definitely personality driven – these people want headlines more than they care about orderly functioning of government or anything else,” he said. “But other ones like Chip Roy, I think, has a more principled stand. He wants the leadership in the House, and particularly the Republican conference, to act in a different sort of way than they have been. And so I’m not sure that he’s chasing headlines as much as some, but clearly there’s a subset among that 20 that’s after the clicks and the likes and the headlines and bringing disorder to the House, if you will.”

A fifth vote for speaker was underway Wednesday afternoon.