When Matt Gaetz stepped to the microphones during Thursday’s three-hour private House GOP meeting on the speakership, the speaker he ousted promptly yelled at him to “sit down.”
Kevin McCarthy was not the only Republican to vent fury with Gaetz, the Florida conservative who successfully ousted the House’s leader. The room met Gaetz with booing, profanities and calls to back off, according to multiple lawmakers in the room. When Gaetz refused, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) stood up and hollered a command at him that one Republican recalled as: “If you don’t sit down, I’ll put you down.”
It seems that every day without a speaker brings a new release of pent-up anger from the House GOP, which is stuck in the bewildering position of technically controlling a chamber of Congress where it can’t even vote on bills. At the moment, their latest pick for speaker, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), cannot win the gavel on the floor and yet still won’t end his campaign — preventing a half-dozen or more other ambitious GOP lawmakers from jumping into the race.
Republicans’ inability to elect a new leader is so acute that by Thursday, they squabbled over whether to empower a colleague who they wouldn’t elect to control the floor, only to jettison that idea hours later. Those talks about elevating Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) quickly grew nasty as conservatives accused fellow Republicans of pursuing a power-sharing arrangement with Democrats.
What went unsaid: Those same conservatives are loath to abandon Jordan’s doomed candidacy lest it underscore that their most influential voice couldn’t get the votes.
After 16 days adrift, it was clear by Thursday evening that House Republicans have hit rock bottom. What began as social media sniping over their failed speakership battle has devolved into real fears for the safety of members whose families are receiving personal threats over their decision to oppose Jordan.
Making matters worse, the implosion of the empower-McHenry push leaves them without a backup plan. And Jordan’s disavowal of aggressive tactics used against his skeptics didn’t move them at all. After meeting with some of the holdouts later Thursday evening, Jordan didn’t make headway. Instead, the members opposing him urged him to drop out.
Even so, he’s planning to push another ballot on Friday morning.
When asked if he changed his mind, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) replied: “I can’t.”
“We had an election. We elected somebody,” Kelly said, noting that Jordan allies helped block Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) from the gavel last week.
Multiple conference members, including Reps. Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas), Lance Gooden (R-Texas) and Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) pressed Jordan on how he could decide to stay in the speaker race, including his decision to do so while also backing a plan to empower McHenry.
During Thursday’s meeting, Moran pressed Jordan on a previous vow to the GOP last week that he would step down if he couldn’t get 217 votes — which has become increasingly obvious.
“I didn’t get a clear answer as to the timing of when he might be willing to do that,” Moran said in a brief interview.
While a majority of Republicans are standing by Jordan publicly, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) suggested that a larger chorus of lawmakers are privately calling, or at least wishing, that Jordan would drop out.
“A lot of people” want Jordan to end his candidacy, Crenshaw added, while describing himself as agnostic.
Much of the GOP frustration is aimed at Gaetz and the seven other Republicans who linked arms with House Democrats to oust McCarthy earlier this month, standing against an overwhelming majority of the GOP conference.
“If you are going to blow a bridge, you better have another one to cross. And those eight clearly didn’t have another one to cross before they blew this bridge,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said.
Further fueling the raw feelings are personal threats lawmakers and their families are now facing over the speaker vote. Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) disclosed to his colleagues on Thursday that he had placed a sheriff at his daughter’s school, adding in a statement that Republicans do “not need a bully as the speaker.”
The more speaker candidates that House Republicans swat away, the less optimistic anyone on the Hill is that the crisis will end soon.
Even so, multiple candidates are starting to raise their hands in the event that Jordan bows out — and some of his Freedom Caucus allies are simultaneously indicating they won’t support anyone else besides him. The alternative names circulating include Republican Study Committee Chair Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
Meanwhile, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) is publicly pitching an even more outlandish idea — naming former President Donald Trump speaker for 100 days.
It all points to the lack of an obvious escape for House Republicans from their self-inflicted pain. There’s no indication that anyone can get to the 217 votes needed to clinch the gavel, nor can a majority of them get behind boosting McHenry so they can act legislatively.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) said he’s argued that “I don’t think there is a single person in that room that can get 217 votes.” The person who is currently closest is someone who isn’t even in the race: McCarthy.
“People are starting to realize that Kevin McCarthy kept this thing together with duct tape and silly putty,” Armstrong added. “And it’s not as easy as they think.”