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Nobody should want to be the next speaker. It’s about what comes after

Whoever emerges from the Republican speaker thunderdome will have to pass tons of unpopular legislation. It’s best to wait for the next round

Eric Garcia
Monday 23 October 2023 18:47 BST
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U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) leaves a closed-door House Republican meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House Republican caucus is searching for a new Speaker of the House candidate after Rep. Jim Jordan failed on three separate attempts to achieve a majority of votes in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) leaves a closed-door House Republican meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House Republican caucus is searching for a new Speaker of the House candidate after Rep. Jim Jordan failed on three separate attempts to achieve a majority of votes in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Welcome to the House Republican Thunderdome and Day 20 without a speaker of the House.

After the House Republican conference summarily booted Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) in a secret ballot after he failed on a third attempt to become speaker, a veritable horde of Republicans threw their names in the ring to become the top dog.

So far, nine Republicans have announced their candidacies for speaker: Reps Kevin Hern (R-OK); Mike Johnson (R-LA), an ardent social conservative and opponent of abortion; House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN); Austin Scott (R-GA), who staged a Potemkin challenge against Mr Jordan that revealed the Ohio Republican’s weakness; Dan Meuser (R-PA); Gary Palmer (R-AL); Pete Sessions (R-TX); Jack Bergman (R-MI); and Byron Donalds (R-FL).

Each of these candidates has certain benefits and drawbacks. As House majority whip, Mr Emmer is probably the favourite given his deep ties to fundraisers and the fact he supported many of the freshmen in swing districts. But his vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results probably makes him dead on arrival for the MAGA wing of the GOP (and the same goes for Mr Scott). Denying the results of the 2020 presidential election and fealty to Donald Trump has become as much of a core tenet for the GOP as tax cuts and restricting abortion.

In any other context, the idea of a congressman halfway into his second term running for speaker would be considered absurd. But ever since a handful of opponents to Kevin McCarthy’s speaker bid nominated Mr Donalds, he’s become a favorite of the hard right of the GOP. Mr Johnson, for his part, is a staunch opponent of abortion, which could endear him to conservatives, but that also means Democrats could tie frontline Republicans to his ideology.

But in truth, this speaker’s race is really an amuse-bouche. Whether one of the nine wins or someone else wins, the next speaker will immediately be signing their death note, which is probably why some other stronger Republicans are sitting this race out.

We at Inside Washington have said that being a Republican speaker of the House of Representatives is an inherently miserable job that inevitably leads to leaving in disgrace. A large reason for this is that a considerable amount of the House GOP sees the difficult work of governing as antithetical to conservative ideology.

And plenty of governing must be done in the coming weeks. As soon as a speaker is sworn in, the highest order of business will be keeping the government open. The continuing resolution that Mr McCarthy passed at the end of last month expires in 25 days and the lack of a speaker means the House can’t pass any spending bills. House Republicans want to avoid passing a “clean” continuing resolution again, since they want to include spending cuts and oppose passing an omnibus spending bill, preferring to pass 12 individual spending bills.

For those who may have forgotten, Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) filed his motion to vacate specifically because Mr McCarthy passed the clean resolution to keep the government operating.

The second order of business would be helping US allies like Israel and Ukraine. Republicans are likely to support spending to assist Israel, given the large support for the country from evangelical Christians due to its critical role in end-times theology.

Friend of Inside Washington Joseph Zeballos at Semafor flagged that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Face the Nation on Sunday that while “we want to make sure we're not sending money to Hamas” there “are genuine humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza who are not Hamas, who've been thrown under the bus by what Hamas did.” However, providing aid to Gaza might prove to be a non-starter for many conservatives.

Then there’s the thorny question of how to help Ukraine. Mr Donalds has adamantly opposed aid to Ukraine, as have other hardline conservatives. Attempts to tie aid to Israel with aid to Ukraine would infuriate some Republicans and more isolationist members of the conference.

Despite their unpopularity with Republicans, all of these measures are essential for the United States to maintain both its financial obligations and its status as the leader of the free world. But passing any of them means that as soon as the votes are gaveled out, someone like Mr Gaetz will file a motion to vacate to depose the man in the chair.

Tellingly, no women are running for the top job in the House, despite a large number of qualified women such as House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger.

And why would they? Taking the job almost guarantees a shorter tenure and even more humiliation than Mr McCarthy experienced earlier this month. The better option for a conservative with a lean and hungry look might be to wait for right-wing vultures to pick at the carcass of a newly deposed speaker before rising up.

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