U.S. House speaker turmoil hindering response to crises at home and abroad

A vote could come as soon as today on whether Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, takes on the role.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 17, 2023 11:50 am,

As some in the Texas delegation to Capitol Hill have publicly acknowledged, a huge political vacuum is in D.C. right now complicating the U.S. response to many crises – not just with respect to the Middle East, but in Ukraine and on many other fronts, both international and domestic.

The U.S. House of Representatives is two weeks into an historic moment of its own after the Republican-led chamber voted to remove its speaker and at this moment has yet to approve a new leader. There could be a vote later today on the House floor for conservative Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio.

How likely is that vote to succeed, or could we see a prolonged process mirroring of when ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally won the gavel after 15 rounds of voting back in January?

Álvaro Corral, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: The bid to replace McCarthy has highlighted lots of fissures within the Republican Party. The vote to remove him, led by Florida Republican and Trump supporter Matt Gaetz, angering many in the party enough to call for his removal from the House Republican Conference, right? That hadn’t happened.

Álvaro Corral: Yes. So this is quite the sort of historic event.

We thought that the events of January around the election of Speaker McCarthy then were somewhat historic, only to be ousted, I guess, by this very kind of surprising turn of events. So, yeah, there’s been lots of disarray for the last two weeks.

And to a certain extent, it seems as if the Republican Party is kind of abiding by the critique of the Democratic Party in the past, right? Sort of like a disorganized party. And so that’s really become the sort of label for the Republicans, or at least they’re showing it for the last two weeks.

Well, it looked for a while there like Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana was, you know, the party’s nominee, but he didn’t have the votes. So what was the issue there? 

Well, the issue is a bit surprising. I’m not entirely sure. I read it as a very kind of quick in and out process.

You know, they sort of maybe did one or perhaps just slightly more rounds of voting. He didn’t see his support materializing and decided to, you know, keep his reputation intact for potentially other plans and said, you know, maybe I don’t want any kind of poisoned chalice as the House speakership is sort of becoming at the moment.

And so he just stepped away, leaving a kind of power vacuum there and Jim Jordan has tried to fill it.

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Let’s look at this on a sort of political spectrum, if we can. I mean, you look at the House Republicans on the left side of that Republican Overton Window. You have McCarthy sort of more to the right. You have Scalise, we’ve just talked about both of them. And then you have Jim Jordan, who I think is certainly perceived by Democrats and many moderates within the party as to the far right, supported by Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump. You think he has the votes to get the speakership?

It sounds like it’s getting close and it sounds like it’s sort of moving in his direction. My understanding is yeah, as you said, he’s really kind of made his way from the far right of the House Freedom Caucus, where he is, to sort of this mainstream position. Being the House speakership is traditionally some sort of mainstream, establishment position.

And so really, I think that this sort of represents the culmination and the consolidation of the Tea Party, the sort of MAGA wing of the Republican Party. If they can get a House speaker that represents their interests, that would be a a major shift in just the last couple of years. And my sense right now is that he may be, last reports I saw, ten to maybe a dozen votes short.

You know, all this kind of wrangling that’s going on behind the scenes, but it sounds like there’s quite the pressure campaign both from Jim Jordan’s people and then also the sort of, as you were alluding to at the beginning, all the kind of real life international relations events are really sort of putting a pressure campaign on House Republicans to fill this this role, whoever it be.

Well, you know, I think that’s an important point. Let’s get out of the realm of politics and into real life, if we can. What are the stakes if today’s vote fails? The U.S. House still has no speaker. What does that mean for the functioning of the government?

Well, I was thinking about this. And so to a certain extent, a couple of weeks ago, we were on that sort of government shutdown cliff and we just sort of moved away from it. But for all intents and purposes, we’ve sort of been in a quasi-government shutdown for the last two weeks.

Given that we don’t have House speaker, if this doesn’t sort of coalesce ultimately behind Jim Jordan, it’s sort of anyone’s guess. We’re starting to enter sort of uncharted territory here.

There’s been kind of discussions in the background of like, well, maybe we can empower, you know, Patrick McHenry, who’s in the pro tem House speaker role. You know, if push comes to shove and he were to bring some sort of bill, about like aid to Israel up for a vote, would people allow him to?That’s sort of potentially the case. You know, the House sort of has the leeway here to interpret that role a bit more broadly if they have to and if they feel pressured.

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