On Oct. 19, having failed to secure his election to the office of House speaker after two rounds of voting, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) opted to push a Plan C gambit. The Judiciary Committee chair reluctantly decided to back an effort to provide Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) with the authority he needs to move legislative business forward until Jan. 2024. But not everyone in the Republican conference was happy about it, and the saga has taken more twists and turns.
An ally of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Patrick McHenry was at the top of the list of members picked by McCarthy to act as House Speaker in his absence, pursuant to House Rule I. As it turned out, McCarthy was removed from the position in a historic vote earlier in the month. McHenry then found himself holding the gavel while his party struggled to elect a new speaker.
Plan C: The Patrick McHenry Gambit
After Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) failed to secure enough GOP votes to take over from McCarthy, he gave up his nomination and Jordan stepped in. The party was still divided, though, and after two rounds of voting, Jordan faced the same problem as his colleague from Louisiana. A tentative third vote is – according to Jordan’s office – on the table for Friday morning, Oct. 20.
Rather than step aside and hope another candidate would emerge, Jordan decided to bide his time and support McHenry, who would have become an unelected speaker for 90 days. It’s not quite that simple, though. Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) vehemently opposed the idea of empowering Patrick McHenry to act as basically an interim speaker. “Oh, Hell no. Hades no,” he told reporters. Fallon claimed that about two-thirds of the Republican conference was against the proposal.
Jordan continues to persuade GOP holdouts to back him. He met with them on Oct. 19, but at least two who oppose his bid for the top job in the House remained unconvinced. This means that in a third round of voting, Jordan can only afford to lose two additional GOP votes.
Then, late in the day on Oct. 19, Jordan revealed that the Patrick McHenry gambit was a no-go. Many House Republicans, especially Freedom Caucus members, balked at the idea because Democrat votes would be needed to expand the speaker pro tempore’s powers. The minority party would, in effect, have been given a seat at the table to negotiate what powers the temporary House speaker would have.
“We made the pitch to members on the resolution as a way to lower the temperature and get back to work,” Jordan said after the closed-door GOP meeting. “We decided that wasn’t where we’re gonna go.” He added that he intended to work toward another speaker vote on the floor of the House.
Looking for a Path Forward
Democrats continue to revel in what they are describing as chaos within the Republican conference. To top it all off, a few media outlets are reporting that other House Republicans might be mulling their own bids for speaker. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that Friday morning’s proposed vote will benefit Jordan. Republicans are under the gun to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The only way they could keep Patrick McHenry in the speaker’s chair now is to name him speaker-designate instead of Jordan – but that would also require a vote and for Jordan to relinquish his nomination.
For Jordan, the Republican conference, and for Patrick McHenry, there is no light at the end of the Tunnel into which Rep. Matt Gaetz drove them when he led the rebellion against Kevin McCarthy. Perhaps the Florida Republican should have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. One of the many wise pieces of advice imparted by the 6th-century Chinese general and master strategist was, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”