House Republicans took another baby step toward picking their next speaker Tuesday night, as they gathered for an official candidate forum. The event gave the two official contenders — Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan — a chance to make their pitches to colleagues, but didn’t seem to resolve much of the race’s uncertainty. Here are our takeaways from the evening.
1. This is going to take a while. As they left the meeting, Republicans poured cold water on any hope that they might coalesce around a new speaker quickly. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said there was maybe 2% chance they’d pick a nominee by the end of Wednesday, when voting is set to begin. “I don’t think it’s gonna happen in a day,” he told reporters. “I think it’s gonna be less than a week or two.”Fewer than half of House Republicans have endorsed a candidate so far. Tuesday’s forum gave members of the opposite wings of the House GOP an opportunity to press the frontrunners on their plans to fund the government and working with Democrats — both controversial topics. Not everyone was impressed: Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who voted to topple McCarthy last week, said he “wasn’t thrilled” with either candidate, and predicted that up to 30 House Republicans might simply vote “present” or be undecided on the first speaker ballot.
2. Jim Jordan might have some momentum. While there still isn’t a decisive frontrunner, the Judiciary Chair did seem to quell some of the concerns moderates have about his ties with the hard-right. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a member of the Main Street Caucus, who said he was leaning towards voting for Scalise, told reporters he was convinced Jordan would do his best for every faction of the party. “Because of his past, I think you’d expect to hear the Freedom Caucus message. It was not that tonight. I thought it was very pragmatic.” Still, not everybody seemed swayed. “I don’t think anything changed for anybody,” Rep. Mike Lawler, a moderate member from New York, told Semafor when asked if Jordan had managed to win him over.
3. McCarthy says he’s out. Former speaker Kevin McCarthy finally quieted this week’s comeback speculation, telling reporters he’d urged his supporters not to nominate him for speaker. He also promised to back whoever his party picks. McCarthy hasn’t officially endorsed a successor — though his staff have worked the phones for Jordan.
4. One candidate promised to avoid a shutdown. Both Jordan and Scalise were asked what they would do if Congress fails to pass a budget by Nov. 17, when the government’s funding is scheduled to lapse again. According to Massie, Jordan committed to passing a long-term continuing resolution in order to take a government shutdown “off the table,” while Scalise did not.
Jordan’s plan would keep the government funded through at least April, when 1% across-the-board spending cuts are set to kick in if Congress doesn’t pass its appropriation bills. The lawmaker suggested the threat of those cuts would force the Democratic-led Senate to the negotiating table. Hard-right Republicans have generally resisted the idea of passing temporary spending bills, but some seemed ready to accept it as a necessary evil going forward. “It wasn’t my first choice of a plan, obviously, but it is a plan that you that I can live with as a next best strategy, if Jim Jordan is speaker at this point,” Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C. said.
5. They’re still arguing about process. Republicansremain split on a potential rule change meant to avoid another embarrassing floor fight. About half the conference is rallying around a proposal that would increase the minimum number of GOP votes a candidate would need in order to be nominated for speaker, bumping it up from a simple majority to near the 217 necessary to also guarantee a win once the full House votes. But there’s serious resistance to a last minute rule change; Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, suggested that it would “throw us into chaos.” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Ky. told reporters the idea was discussed, but no decisions have been made.
Unity might not be entirely elusive, though. Both Jordan and Scalise promised to back whichever candidate wins their party’s support.