The Logjam

By Jim Ellis — Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023


Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) — potential House Speaker option?

Speaker: Multiple Ballots — For the first time since 1923, the US House of Representatives conducted multiple ballots to elect a new Speaker and have yet to overcome the impasse; this, after three complete 434-member alphabetical roll call votes produced only one representative who changed his vote.

With 20 Republicans voting against the conference nominee, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), and 19 of those over three separate votes, the logjam can only be broken in his favor if 15 of these members change their position and agree to support him later today. 

Since McCarthy’s ability to somehow finding a magic bullet to save his quest for the Speakership seems rather unlikely at this point, speculation is rampant about what may happen. Many believe that incoming Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) may be able to construct a coalition large enough to reach the 218-majority figure. Others feel that he is viewed as too close to McCarthy – being, in effect, a “McCarthy Light” – which might be enough to disqualify him.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) has floated the idea of attempting to build a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to vote for a more centrist Republican. This strategy has worked in some state legislatures, Alaska and Texas being the most prominent, as well as in the New York state Senate for a time. Yesterday, the moderate Ohio House Republicans and Democrats forged a successful coalition to claim the Speakership in that body.

Because personal relationships are stronger in smaller state legislatures and generally more bipartisan, coalition strategies in these bodies have a much better chance of success than they do in Congress. In the current US House situation, with all 212 Democrats holding tight for conference nominee, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), peeling off even one such member to join a bipartisan coalition is likely out of reach. 

Jeffries and the Democrats’ best chance is that the McCarthy team attempts an end run around the rules by having some of their votes not be present or by voting “present” in an attempt to lower the number of votes McCarthy would need to secure majority support. 

The danger with this approach is a miscalculation and miscommunication that could accidentally allow Jeffries to end a final count with enough votes to snatch the Speakership away. Since he placed first in all three votes yesterday, such a scenario happening is not altogether impossible to visualize.

Another option being bandied about is the idea of electing someone from outside of the House. There is no requirement that the House Speaker be a member of the body, though we have never seen such a situation. 

If the logjam reaches a point of being insurmountable, would the membership turn to an outside individual, and if so, who might be such a person?

The first name that was discussed several months ago was former President Donald Trump. Electing Trump as Speaker might have been realistic at one point, especially when doing so might have persuaded him to forego entering the presidential campaign. Today, however, there would be no appetite for even floating his name.

On the other hand, a member of the Trump cabinet who previously served in the House might have the type of portfolio that could garner 218 Republican votes. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fits this profile, and apparently several conservative groups are beginning to push him for member consideration as a viable Speaker alternative.

A third option might be former New York Congressman Lee Zeldin. Though unsuccessful in his run for governor in the Empire State, his campaign was strong enough to come close in one of the most Democratic of states, and certainly moved some numbers down ballot. The Republicans sweeping all four Long Island congressional seats for the first time in decades is largely a testament to Zeldin’s tough-on-crime campaign that clearly moved voters to the Republican column from his home region as well as upstate.

Zeldin already drew one vote on the floor yesterday, that of Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) during the first roll call. After just drawing his four-term House career to a close, Zeldin would be another credible outside potential Speaker candidate who might be able to draw majority support.

Today’s session will be one for the history books. The House will again convene at noon.

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