After yet another speaker nominee failed to get 217 votes on the House floor Tuesday, some House Republicans are eyeing a new way out of their self-induced dysfunction.
It would involve expanding the powers of Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had tapped at the beginning of the term to fill in temporarily, if he, for whatever reason, could no longer serve. While electing a permanent speaker remains elusive for the conference, a McHenry who can do more than preside over a series of failed speakership elections has piqued some interest.
Rep. Dan Crewnshaw (R-TX) told TPM as he left the chamber after Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) fell well short of winning the gavel Tuesday afternoon that “there is some talk about that.”
“I’m not necessarily opposed to it,” he said. “It gives us some breathing room.”
“Devil’s in the details though — expanded to what powers? Kind of just makes him default speaker, so there’s that,” he added. “For the sake of passing some just necessary work getting done, I’m not opposed to it, but we have a lot more details to work out there.”
Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-FL), an outspoken advocate of expanding the pro tem’s powers recently, told TPM that “now is the moment” to act and give McHenry more powers.
The idea has gained momentum in the two weeks since McCarthy was deposed and the House became paralyzed, unable to conduct any business other than the so far unsuccessful speakership votes.
But the idea is far from universal popularity within the Republican conference.
“I think that’s a last resort,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) told TPM on the steps of the House. “But if that’s the case, it just shows that Republicans can’t unify and that’s a shame because the American people need us right now.”
Or as Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) put it: “Absolutely, 100 percent against it,” he said emphatically, adding that they should not be “altering powers for a constitutionally vested office for convenience.”
House Democrats, gazing upon the dysfunction from a distance, have so far stayed in lockstep. They’ve offered to give House Republicans the needed votes in exchange for a consensus candidate and a power-sharing agreement to give Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) more control over the House floor, among other things.
The possibility of a Republican expansion of McHenry’s powers, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told TPM, has not yet been discussed among the caucus.
But Jeffries said Tuesday evening, when asked if he’d be open to McHenry having the power to oversee legislation, that: “I have respect for Patrick McHenry. I think he is respected on our side of the aisle.”
He added that “informal conversations” have “accelerated over the last few days,” and that “all options are on the table” in regards to McHenry being a permanent speaker or a temporarily empowered one. He did not directly answer TPM’s question about whether some kind of power-sharing agreement for Democrats would be a necessary prerequisite for the caucus to lend its votes to McHenry.
“We’ve got to explore ways that we can function as an institution, even in the midst of all the GOP chaos,” Raskin said.