Oct 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Republicans hold “vent” session to tee up speaker battle

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

House Republicans tried to purge their lingering tensions over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) ouster on Monday ahead of what promises to be a slugfest over selecting his successor and possibly changing GOP conference rules.

Why it matters: The conference is sharply divided between House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), with some lawmakers even pushing to restore McCarthy.

  • Some lawmakers also want to make it harder to remove House speakers going forward and require any GOP nominee for the role to demonstrate they can get the 217 votes necessary to prevail on the House floor.

Driving the news: Coming out of their closed-door conference meeting Monday night, House Republicans said the lion's share of the anger was directed at the eight members who voted to remove McCarthy.

  • "There's anger, but that's just what you're going to expect," said Burchett, one of the eight Republicans. "People are upset ... they've got a right to be mad, but I've got a right to represent my constituents."
  • One moderate used the word "chickensh*t" to describe the group of McCarthy rebels, according to two members who were at the meeting.
  • "I think it's human nature to let people vent. Clearly there were people that still have a lot of anger," said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.).

Yes, but: The conference may have come out even more divided than when it went in, with Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) telling his colleagues he will only vote for McCarthy for speaker.

  • "I am supporting Kevin McCarthy to be reinstated, and I said that very clearly," said Gimenez, adding, "Unless Kevin McCarthy says otherwise – that he's out, out, out [of the running] – I'm supporting Kevin McCarthy."
  • McCarthy, for his part, refused to rule out making a comeback attempt during a press conference earlier on Monday.
  • Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) said he hopes McCarthy will be on the ballot when the GOP conference votes for its speaker nominee on Wednesday.

Zoom in: The conference is expected to vote on the proposed rules changes on Wednesday before they move to their leadership elections, according to several members.

  • Hern said there are as many as four potential rules changes to require the nominee to win a larger share of GOP votes and that there is "a pretty significant desire to change those rules" within the conference.
  • Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chair of the House Rules Committee, made the case to make it harder to bring future motions to vacate, telling reporters: "I think it's time to take the sharp knives away from the children."

What we're watching: Multiple House Republicans said they haven't heard any of their colleagues say they will never vote for Scalise or Jordan, leading to some qualified hope they'll be able to unify around a candidate.

  • "I feel confident that we'll be unified, I really do," said Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), who argued in the meeting for Republicans to coalesce around whoever gets the nomination.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the eight rebels, told Axios he is willing to vote for either Jordan or Scalise and is confident both can get the 218 votes needed to become speaker.
  • "This is politics, you've got to give people a lot of room to say some things they really didn't mean, particularly when they're mad," said Cole. "The real test is, when you get to the floor, what will you do?"
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