While it is guaranteed that Republicans will remove Speaker Nancy Pelosi from her post, the narrow margin of victory the GOP will have in the House has empowered a small group of conservatives with the opportunity to leverage demands for reforms in exchange for their critical support for the speakership.
So far, their leverage is keeping Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23), or anyone else for that matter, from announcing they have secured the votes to become speaker, and so far McCarthy has yet to announce any deals or concessions.
The partisan breakdown of the House beginning in 2023 will be 222 Republicans to 213 Democrats; with 218 votes needed to secure the speakership, only five detractors are needed to block any Republican from becoming speaker — in this case, McCarthy.
Conservative lawmakers, many associated with the House Freedom Caucus, have taken two separate stances on the issue, both making a McCarthy speakership uncertain.
The first group, deemed by onlookers as the “Never Kevin” movement, is a group of five lawmakers who have taken a staunch position against McCarthy becoming speaker under any circumstances. It is composed of members like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1), who has described McCarthy as “a shill of the establishment” and a “vessel through which lobbyists and special interests operate.”
The second group includes seven lawmakers who have taken a more diplomatic approach, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21).
Roy has not ruled out the possibility of voting for McCarthy, but has signed a letter with six other Republican lawmakers identifying seven reforms to House rules and certain legislative priorities that a speaker candidate must support.
“For years … the House leadership of both parties has increasingly centralized decision-making power around fewer and fewer individuals — at the expense of deliberation and input by the body. This results in massive, multi-subject bills that are unable to be amended or fully read, all driven by supposedly must-pass defense and appropriations measures,” the letter reads.
“In the process, we’ve amassed trillions of dollars in debt, empowered administration bureaucrats who target citizens, and failed to carry out our basic duties to defend the American People.”
The most prominent requested rule change is the reinstitution of the “Motion to Vacate the Chair,” which would allow any member to force a vote to remove the speaker from office.
The rule has a long-standing history, and is even part of a parliamentary rules book authored by former President Thomas Jefferson known as the “Jefferson Manual.” The motion was in place from 1801 until 2018 when Democrats took control of the House and eliminated it.
Roy and his allies defended the rule, writing that “While difficult in practice, it is an important mechanism to restore trust and provide accountability,” adding further that there was a reason the rule was in place for so long.
However, McCarthy and those close to him are reportedly not fond of the idea.
Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2) blasted the rule, telling CNN, “You can’t govern with a gun to your head and that is what they are asking for,” and took aim at the language contained in the joint letter describing the rule as a mechanism of ‘Trust and Accountability.’”
“You can scream the word accountability all you want … in the end it’s just a path to chaos, not stability, and we are going to have to be very united and very stable if we are going to govern properly,” Crenshaw is quoted saying.
The second procedural demand calls for legislation that contains single subjects, requires amendments to be germane to the topic of the bill and gives members sufficient time, at least 72 hours, to read a bill before it is voted on.
One demand in the letter that deals with neither policy nor rules change is a purely political matter, requiring Republican leadership to refrain from being involved in GOP primary elections.
“While organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth have a role to play in primaries, Republican leadership does not,” the letter says, claiming that political action committees associated with McCarthy used funds to attack fellow Republicans in their primary elections but didn’t have funds available to defeat Democrats with in November, costing the GOP numerous close races.
Other requests contained in the letter include a demand for conservatives to have equal representation on committees and in chair positions, a firm plan to end limitless deficit spending, an investigation committee to combat “weaponized government,” and must-pass legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act to place “checks” on the Biden administration.
Most Republican lawmakers from Texas are taking a completely opposite approach to the speaker race.
Dubbing themselves the “Only Kevin” caucus, lawmakers pledging their loyalty to a McCarthy speakership issued statements committing themselves to that effect, including five congressional members from Texas.
“Kevin McCarthy has my vote on the first ballot and every ballot until he’s elected Speaker,” wrote Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX-13). “My colleagues can waste time and keep those gavels out of Republican hands longer than necessary or they can join the overwhelming majority of our conference, unite behind Kevin and get to work for their constituents. My decision is final.”
“Kevin McCarthy has my unqualified support for Speaker,” wrote Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-TX-6). “Whether it’s on the first ballot or the 100th ballot, I’m voting for Kevin. It’s time to end this distraction and for all of us to get to work for the voters that sent us to Washington.”
Representative-elect Wesley Hunt (R-TX-38), Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23), and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10) issued similar statements in favor of McCarthy.
The adamant tone of all three factions in the race has set a course toward stalemate and potential clashes on the House floor come January 3, when all recently elected members will take the oath of office and hold the vote for a new speaker.
A copy of the joint letter Roy signed can be found below.
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Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.