Schoen: GOP paralysis deepens as Speaker vote drags on

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Midday Thursday, it appeared that ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan was ready to step aside from the speaker’s race, thus allowing Republicans in the House of Representatives to end weeks of political stunts and join with Democrats to elevate Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry’s powers.

Instead, House Republicans again failed to display any semblance of leadership and elect a Speaker of the House, despite a number of international and domestic crises, and continued to paralyze our government. 

Indeed, this dysfunction comes at a critical moment for global affairs as the Middle East is engulfed in a full-blown war between Israel and Hamas, while Ukraine continues to battle against Russia’s invasion. 

Further, we are barreling towards a government shutdown later in November when the continuing resolution expires. With the House frozen, Congress will be unable to prevent the economic consequences such a shutdown would have.

To be sure, the United States cannot expect to lead the free world and support our allies if we are unable get our own house in order. Failing to quickly empower McHenry with the ability to move legislation would be a mistake, as House Republicans risk permanently undermining American credibility and respect around the globe.

Yet, some in the GOP are not finished causing chaos, risking America’s credibility around the world, and undermining Republican’s own electoral viability ahead of 2024. When it looked like Jordan may step aside for McHenry, Rep. Jim Banks said that, “Expanding powers for a temporary Speaker is a dangerous precedent and exactly what the Democrats hoped would happen.”

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz also came out in opposition to empowering McHenry. As Republicans would likely need buy in from Democrats to overcome the extremists in their caucus who are the root cause of the current situation, Greene slammed the idea as “The wrong thing to do,” while Gaetz said, “I’m against speaker lite. It’s constitutional desecration.”

Notably, Republicans do not seem to care that their constant infighting is harming their own political stock ahead of crucial 2024 elections. Last week, Majority Leader Steve Scalise was forced to withdraw from the Speaker’s race after he could not garner enough support to bring his bid to the floor. Jordan played a significant role in undermining Scalise’s bid and then became the Republicans’ nominee for speaker. 

Scalise allies along with moderate Republicans in Biden-won congressional districts are particularly wary of voting for Jordan, a prominent election denier and abortion rights opponent who will create additional political vulnerability for the Republican conference in 2024.

Jordan rallied his allies against Scalise despite offering to nominate him on the floor, and top Jordan-backer former President Donald Trump and fellow Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene even raised questions about Scalise’s health. Fox News host Sean Hannity also got involved on Jordan’s behalf as well by using both his television program and personally calling Jordan’s opponents to apply pressure within the fractured GOP.

After toppling Scalise’s bid, Jordan took his nomination to the House floor on Tuesday and subsequently lost 20 Republican votes, finishing with a lower total than Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and well short of the 217 votes required to win. After a second attempt on Wednesday, Jordan did not make any progress and instead lost two additional votes. He then seemed prepared to temporarily withdraw from consideration and endorse the empowerment of McHenry, but House Republicans reversed course on Thursday and Jordan lost a third vote Friday.

The entire Republican delegation from California backed Jordan the second time around, taking the risk of supporting Jordan in the hopes that the House could move on with its business. In his official statement, Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County clearly recognized the harm this is doing to the country, saying, “Let’s come together, elect Jim our Speaker, and show the American people how we can lead again.”

Unfortunately for Issa and House Republicans, time and again this does not come to fruition. Not only are they unable to compromise with Democrats, but they are also unable to compromise with themselves – leaving their conference totally unable to govern. 

In fact, it is increasingly difficult to see a way for any Republican to get the 217 votes to become Speaker of the House without reaching across the aisle for Democratic support.

This scenario appears to be a non-starter for Republicans, which led to the initial momentum for passing a resolution empowering Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry to temporarily conduct the work of the speaker, allowing the House to function.

Quite simply, the House is running out of time to get its act together. Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appear eager to swiftly pass a bipartisan package that includes military aid for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan as well as more funding for the nation’s southern border. 

Meanwhile, a paralyzed House risks undermining the pledge President Biden made in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. “Isn’t going anywhere. We’re going to stand with you.”

Unfortunately, this effort will be for naught if Republicans in the House are unable to organize and unite around a leader. Furthermore, if Jordan somehow does climb the steep hill ahead to become speaker, he will likely oppose Ukraine aid as well as nearly any other initiative coming from the Biden administration. 

Ultimately, empowering McHenry would be a step in the right direction. With Vladimir Putin on an official visit to Beijing with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Iran threatening to involve itself in the war between Israel and Hamas, which would lead to a regional, if not global war, America’s strongest adversaries are on the march. Congress cannot afford to waste any more time in a rudderless stalemate as our enemies abroad attempt to establish a new world order.

Further, a possible government shutdown, while war rages on two continents, could cause devastating damage to the economy, our national security, and America’s global reputation. Republicans would be wise to avoid this outcome, both for the sake of the American people and if they want to have any chance of holding the House next year.

To strengthen America’s resolve on the world stage and avoid potential economic catastrophe, it is essential for congressional Republicans to end this circus, get their house in order, and work with moderate Democrats to responsibly govern and address the serious threats facing our country and our world.

Douglas Schoen is a Democratic political consultant.

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