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Speaker Race Is a Slow Crawl
Plus: How the Hamas attacks magnify Tuberville’s obstruction.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass. Before we jump in, I want to note that October is Italian Heritage Month, which you can celebrate by subscribing to Bulwark+, which employs at least two Italians.
There’s a lot to catch up on in both chambers of Congress, including the still-vacant speakership in the House and the slow pace of critical confirmations in the Senate—both problems cast in a new light by the terror attacks in Israel. Let’s unpack everything.
The House Republican Conference is set to convene in private this evening to internally hash out the differences between the multiple candidates for speaker of the House, but don’t expect a consensus when the first official vote begins tomorrow morning.
During their self-inflicted sede vacante, Republicans have failed to unite around a single candidate for speaker. Instead, the conference is divided among the sizable far-right faction backing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Old Guard Republicans1 supporting House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), those still on the fence, and even a few Only Kevins who have emerged in recent days to bring back the ousted speaker. (A different Kevin, Rep. Kevin Hern, who had hinted about wanting the job, withdrew from consideration over the weekend.)
The conference is so divided that it’s anyone’s guess as to when they’ll get out of this hole—although one hopes it will be in time to resume the appropriations process and avert a government shutdown, which would come on November 17, just a few days before Thanksgiving.
Republicans held a meeting in the Capitol last night to hash out their differences. The result was a clear indication that things are likely to get much worse before they get better. Outstanding issues include whether or not to scrap or amend the rule that allowed Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to single handedly file a motion to depose the speaker; whether Gaetz should be expelled from the House Republican Conference altogether; how to fund—or shut down—the government in five weeks; and a general list of other grievances about procedure, Ukraine funding, potential Israel funding, and more.
Mostly, the meeting involved complaining and shouting. According to Politico:
Multiple GOP lawmakers described it as a mostly civil, yet cathartic, meeting ahead of an intense week in which House Republicans are slated to crown their next GOP leader. One member called it a “therapy session.” Yet some in the room made pointed comments at the eight members in their party responsible for ousting former Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week.
Neither Scalise nor Jordan spoke in the meeting.
The Comeback Kev?
There’s also the issue of whether McCarthy wants another shot. While he said last week after being given the boot that he would not seek the gavel again, he has since softened that position.
In response to a question about whether he would be willing to be speaker again, McCarthy told talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt Monday morning, “Look, whatever the conference wants, I will do.”
McCarthy followed that up later on Monday during an impromptu press conference to outline a plan to support Israel and prioritize U.S. national security (something the speaker of the House would do), fielding a handful of questions about his possible return:
I’ll allow the conference to make whatever decision. Whether I’m speaker or not, I’m a member of this body.
McCarthy still has a lot of loyalty in the conference. At least three lawmakers are on record saying they would vote for McCarthy again: Reps. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), and Tom McClintock (R-Cal.). McCarthy reportedly told his fellow Republicans not to nominate him on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean some might not still cast his name during the official House vote.
One odd wrinkle worth watching: If anyone other than McCarthy wins the gavel, there might be some question about what happens to the impeachment proceedings. Republicans have vowed to move forward with their impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden, despite the haphazard first hearing and general lack of confidence in the probe. But because McCarthy unilaterally authorized the inquiry without a full vote in the House, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) posited that the inquiry loses its legitimacy in his absence. “Any requests or subpoenas by [the] House GOP are thus illegitimate and without authority,” Goldman wrote in a social media post. This interesting legal/parliamentary theory could further stall the clunker of an inquiry.
In these highly contested speaker elections, momentum can swing rapidly. When it’s been in doubt for Democrats, as was the case in 2019 when Nancy Pelosi returned to the chair, the contest has been settled behind the scenes, before the first official vote on the House floor. Under Republicans, it’s been more difficult, particularly this January in which McCarthy needed fifteen ballots before cutting enough deals to win.
Things might not be settled tomorrow or even this week. Then again they also might wrap up sooner than you think. Sports are probably a more reliable gamble. I’ll have the full state of play, along with insights from inside the chamber and elsewhere in the Capitol, in Thursday’s edition of Press Pass.
Hamas terrorism magnifies Tuberville’s obstruction
The risks caused by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s continued blockade of hundreds of senior military promotions requiring Senate confirmation have been magnified by the Hamas attack on Israel, as have Senate Republicans’ slow-rolling of confirmations for other top positions in the region.
It’s frankly amazing: At this moment of international crisis, the United States is without confirmed ambassadors to the following countries:
In each case, the Biden administration has submitted a nominee but Senate confirmation just hasn’t happened.
The outbreak of war has lit a fire under the Senate, which is now moving quickly on the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, with a hearing set for next Wednesday. The remaining positions might still be a ways away.
Regarding the military promotions and nominees, Tuberville isn’t letting up. His spokesperson confirmed to Politico he is maintaining the position that all military confirmations must be moved individually and not by the traditional unanimous consent process until he receives an up or down vote on the Biden administration’s military abortion reimbursement policy.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned Tuberville as he has done all year, this time calling on other Republicans to demand the rogue Republican to reverse course:
This blockade of military promotions has already caused unacceptable harm to our national security and military families. It is now threatening our leadership abroad. Principled Republicans must bring their colleague into line to prevent further damage.
The Senate isn’t back in town until Tuesday, and its plate is just as full as the House’s is, albeit without the leadership void. In the Senate’s case, it’s the procedure that’s impeding business.
I use the term “Old Guard” for these Republicans because it makes more sense than “establishment.” What really is the establishment when the leader of the party (Donald Trump) is also the base’s champion? In this case, “Old Guard” simply means the members who have held positions of leadership in the conference for a significantly longer time than Jordan and his allies.