What Happens in the House Is Anyone’s Guess, and That’s a Concerning Reality

A couple of weeks ago, my distinguished Peach Pundit Podcast colleagues and I discussed the beginning of this sordid mess. We spent much more time than we intended to on the subject. We already knew that House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) were running for Speaker. During the podcast, I said, very emphatically, “Jim Jordan will not be the next Speaker of the House. I’ll just go ahead and say that right now. You think the moderates from New York are going to vote for Jim Jordan?…Scalise? Open question.”

I thought Scalise had the best shot, but we didn’t find out because he withdrew his name because too many Republicans—specifically, hard-right members who wanted Jordan—refused to vote for him. Scalise had no path to 217 votes on the House floor. Enter Jordan, who declared and became Speaker-designate. As I noted in my first post on this topic, Jordan had his work cut out for him since 55 members voted, by secret ballot, that they wouldn’t vote for Jordan on the floor.

To Jordan’s credit, he worked members hard to flip most of the 55. However, the Conservative Industrial Complex—or Conservative, Inc., if you prefer—came out strong for Jordan. Too strong. In fact, they came out so strong that the effort completely backfired and cost Jordan votes. Obviously, there have been threats of primary challenges and more, but some members—Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) Drew Ferguson (R-GA), and Ken Buck (R-CO—have received death threats.

Jordan lost 20 members in the first round, which took place on Tuesday. He lost 22 on the second round on Wednesday. Four members flipped against him while two who voted against him on the first ballot switched and voted for him on the second. Jordan didn’t break the 200 mark on the second ballot, giving him the lowest total votes for a Speaker-designate from the majority in modern history. Jordan got 200 votes in the first round, which was Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) lowest figure in the 15 rounds that he endured back in January, and 199 votes in the second.  

While all of this has played out in a very public fashion, voters have seen with each passing day that House Republicans literally can’t govern. By the way, messaging bills aren’t governing. They’re glorified press releases to the base. Don’t call that governing. It’s an insult to those of us who know messaging bills won’t become law in a divided government or even unified government.

Jordan held a press conference in which he made his case to the public. Before the press conference, his team explicitly denied that he would withdraw. Of course, Jordan’s team has said a lot of things since he became Speaker-designate. Their spin when he lost votes in the second round was that the losses weren’t as bad as they thought they would be. (Weird flex, but okay.) Tensions in the House Republican Conference are high, to put it mildly. It seems as though they are coming apart at the seams. Back to the press conference, the general consensus seems to be that it didn’t serve a point.

The House will come back into session at 10:00 am and immediately go into a roll call vote to establish a quorum before moving on to nominating speeches and the third round of voting for Speaker. More members are expected to vote against Jordan. One prediction is that the opposition will rise to 30 votes. Jordan has given no indication how many failed ballots he’s willing to endure before he drops out, but he needs to do so.

I realize the argument is that McCarthy got 15 rounds before he finally got elected. Yes, he did. At the beginning of a new Congress. When nothing was really happening. There wasn’t a government funding deadline less than a month away. (The current continuing resolution runs through November 17.) There also wasn’t the pressing issue of funding for Ukraine, a potentially major war in the Middle East, and funding for Israel on the agenda. Let’s also not forget that the American military was involved in a series of attacks on Thursday in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Granted, the event that occurred in the Red Sea wasn’t likely aimed at our military. Unfortunately, some soldiers were hurt in Syria. Thankfully, the attack in Iraq was thwarted. More likely than not, the terrorist groups that conducted these attacks acted as proxies for Iran.

Despite the opposition to McCarthy in January, he was able to pick off support, although he did lose some along the way before he got there. The fundamental difference between McCarthy and Jordan, though, is that McCarthy, whose legislative success was limited before he became Speaker, was a proven fundraiser and had experience in leadership. I say that as someone who doesn’t particularly care for McCarthy. Jordan, on the other hand, isn’t a good fundraiser. He’s known as a flamethrower with no meaningful legislative success who, prior to realizing he needed to get in the good graces of McCarthy to get the gavel in Judiciary, based his entire persona on being a thorn in the side of leadership. That was Jordan’s reputation even before he helped co-found the House Freedom Caucus, which, I’ll agree, was founded for a good reason, but it outlived its usefulness long ago.

You might say that Jordan is a fighter for conservative principles. Listen, I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet or not, but Jordan reportedly offered the New York members who voted against him a deal on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Without making an already long post unnecessarily longer, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) capped the SALT deduction at $10,000. It was, in part, how Congress met its deficit target of $1.5 trillion under budget reconciliation to pass TCJA. Capping the SALT deduction raised $668.4 billion in revenue over ten years.

Members of both parties from high-tax states didn’t like the cap because SALT incentivized their states’ high tax rates. SALT is, effectively, a subsidy for Democratic states. Those who claim SALT overwhelmingly are individuals who earn more than $100,000 annually. (My name no longer appears as the author on the linked post, but I wrote it.) In tax year 2014, nearly 84 percent of the cost of the SALT deduction went to individuals who earned at least $100,000. Four states—California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York—represented 44 percent of all SALT deductions.

Jordan offered to increase the cap on SALT to $20,000 for individuals and $40,000 for joint filers, partially rolling back a key part of the TCJA, boosting a tax deduction for Democratic states with heavy tax burdens, and handing a gift to mostly people who don’t need the deduction. Let’s also not forget that it’s just bad tax policy. Jordan’s proposal would cost $54 billion through 2025 and $850 billion over ten years. (The SALT cap will expire at the end of tax year 2025, so the ten-year cost would apply only if the individual tax portions of TCJA are extended.) This, by the way, isn’t the only example of offers and trades Jordan has made in his attempts to get votes. Those are, some might say, “swampy” backroom deals. I thought the populists in the House Republican Conference hated that stuff. Maybe they hated those deals only because it was McCarthy who made them.

All this being said, a good friend who also works in the policy world and I were talking today. Collectively, we have more than four decades of experience in politics and more than three decades in the advocacy world. The thing about all of this that concerns us with everything going on in the world right now is that we don’t know what happens next. The House is an impasse on someone to serve as Speaker since House Republicans, by and large, have rejected a plan to give temporary power to Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who is serving as Speaker Pro Tempore, to do more than oversee the election of a new Speaker. Some, like my friend, Mark Strand, believe McHenry already has the power he needs to conduct legislative business. I agree with Mark.

Some conservatives have argued that the plan to empower the Speaker Pro Tem is unconstitutional. The Speaker is a constitutional office, and the House is required to choose a Speaker. The process of selecting a Speaker isn’t defined in Article I. The Constitution also states that the House can make its own rules, which include precedents. Should McHenry decide to conduct legislative business and that decision is challenged, the House would need only vote to set the precedent that the Speaker Pro Tem has the power of the Speaker while the House sorts out the mess—one that eight members created on October 3 when they deposed McCarthy—and finally picks a Speaker-designate who can get 217 votes on the floor.  

I don’t know who the next Speaker will be, but the stalemate doesn’t seem like it’s going to break until Jordan sees the writing on the wall. It may be true that no one in the House Republican Conference can get to 217 votes on the floor. If that does turn out to be the case, the only choice is for McHenry to do what he can already do and bring legislation to the floor to solve the crises that are before us right now while the quest for compromise in the conference continues.

Originally posted at Exiled Policy. Slight modifications from the original have been made to reflect the press conference this morning.

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