The State of the Speaker Debacleship Going into the Weekend

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Just a short update on doings in the GOP House caucus.

Today was the day for Jim Jordan’s one day Speakership. Jordan hasn’t thrown in the towel, as Scalise did. But if I’m reading things right it’s as over for him as it was for Scalise.

Today, with Scalise out, Jordan scrambled to pull together 217 votes. He failed. At mid-day Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, who I’d literally never heard of before, decided that he might as well run. So in the afternoon the GOP caucus held another vote and it was Jordan 124 to Scott’s 81. (Needless to say, Scott was functioning as a stand-in for opposition to Jordan.) Jordan then asked for another vote where the question was not whether members supported him but whether they would vote him on the floor of the House since he was the GOP nominee. He got 152 votes — 55 votes short. The House eventually decided they’d put in a hard day’s work and recessed until Monday.

The upshot of the last ten days of nonsense appears to be that McCarthy, Scalise and Jordan each have a significant group of members now committed to never, ever voting for them for Speaker under any circumstances. As we discussed yesterday, they’ve now collectively demolished the principle that a caucus vote is binding. After all, that’s what a caucus is. But that’s out the window.

I am not saying it’s likely. But after today I’m, for the first time, thinking that this may end in some kind of cross-party agreement with the Democrats to elect a new Speaker. It’s difficult to convey the sheer weight of factors arrayed against such an outcome. But the first time it seems like there may literally be no way to elect a Speaker with Republican votes alone. And that leaves only one alternative.

That would leave the question of what Republicans could possibly offer and what Democrats could plausibly accept to effect such a compromise. The only thing that seems plausible to me is some form of enhanced or supersized discharge petition. How this could be given force or made meaningful in the context of parliamentary rules I don’t know. But a key, perhaps the key power of the Speakership is what gets a vote and what doesn’t. There’s overwhelming support in the House for Ukraine aide. But a relatively small number of hardliners are preventing such a vote from even happening. That is despite the fact that between 2/3rds and 3/4s of the House would vote for it. The various debt ceiling and government shutdown standoffs can only happen because the GOP Speaker can’t risk accepting a compromise that passes with Democratic votes. Of course, McCarthy ended up doing that twice, at the very, very, very last moment. And that’s why he’s gone.

In other words, what I’m talking about is a way that the minority could force votes in these cases when a majority or in many cases an overwhelming majority supports a bill. How you actually make such a concession operative in parliamentary rule-making I really don’t know. But in principle something like that seems like a concession that would be worth Democrats lending their votes to elect a Republican Speaker.

Even describing this, I find myself saying to myself, there’s just no way that’s ever going to happen. And probably not. But that’s why there’s been no Speaker for going on two weeks.

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