Oct 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan talk grows as GOP fails to find a speaker

Rep. Don Bacon. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Lawmakers in both parties are expressing growing openness, both in public and in private, to a bipartisan deal to elect a House speaker as Republicans are continually thwarted in their efforts to do it alone.

Why it matters: With House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) withdrawing despite winning his party’s nomination, some Republicans are concerned nobody can win the job with just GOP votes.

What they're saying: "There's a sentiment building around [a bipartisan deal] among Democrats and Republicans," Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership who represents a swing district, told Axios.

  • "We're open to anything that's reasonable," said Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), a member of the moderate Republican Governance Group. "Bipartisanship is not a sin."
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a perennial bipartisan dealmaker, said "at this point, there are enough Republican and Democrats saying we've got to get this fixed."
  • Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said, as the situation devolves, he sees Republicans "absolutely" getting more open to a deal: "Yes, I mean you're seeing that."

State of play: With Scalise out of the running, all eyes now turn to Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a co-founder of the right-wing Freedom Caucus.

  • But some of Jordan's GOP colleagues are already predicting he'll suffer the same fate as Scalise. "I think he's gonna have a math problem as well," said Mike Garcia (R-Calif.).
  • Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) said "it's going to be hard" for Jordan to win.

What we're hearing: A bipartisan group of roughly ten House lawmakers is quietly holding "very" serious discussions, a moderate Republican involved in the discussions told Axios on the condition of anonymity.

  • "The question is who gets you to the largest minority of the majority," the GOP lawmaker said. "Is it Don Bacon, who gets 20 [GOP] votes and 200 Democrats? Is it French Hill who gets 100 votes from Republicans? And the fewer Republicans, the more dangerous this is – not just politically, but structurally."
  • Another question, the Republican said, is how many speaker candidates need to fail before people soften on the idea: "Kevin, Steve, Jordan, Emmer … how many losses do you have to have to make that an acceptable outcome?"

Between the lines: Congress is unfamiliar with bipartisan coalition governments in the vein of state legislatures and foreign governments – but the House had also never voted to oust a speaker until last Tuesday.

  • "We are setting precedent every day," said the moderate Republican. "Whatever solution we have will be unprecedented."
  • Democrats say their position hasn't changed from before former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted – they want "institutional reforms, rules changes that allow for bipartisan votes ... not every couple months but every day," said Landsman.

Reality check: Cross-party tensions are still raw after Democrats voted uniformly to remove McCarthy.

  • "There was no sense of [bipartisanship] when it was the motion to vacate a week and a half ago," said Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), "so I don't think anything is credible that could be realistic at the moment."
  • Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) expressed skepticism as well: "Has a Democrat come out and said they would support a Republican nominee?"

The bottom line: Just before Scalise dropped out, Bacon said of Republicans, "At some point we're going to be exasperated [and say], 'Okay, this is not working.'"

  • Asked after Scalise announced if lawmakers are getting closer to that point, he told Axios: "I think we are ... It's going to be a sort of consensus opinion between a group of us."
  • "If this goes on forever, we've got to get the country back going," said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.).
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