Government Affairs and Lobbying Section: Washington Update: A House Without A Speaker

October 13, 2023

By: Blair Hancock

FIFTEEN ROUNDS TO GET THERE, ONE TO GET OUT – In what came as a shocking ouster, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was removed from his speaker role in a vote of 216-210 last week. U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida led the effort and presented Speaker McCarthy’s support for a temporary funding agreement to prevent an October 1 shutdown as the primary reason for the motion to vacate. Following the removal, U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry took the role of Interim Speaker. The interim role is unprecedented, and his authority is limited and ambiguous. The U.S. House of Representatives cannot take up any legislative action until a speaker is determined.

STATE OF PLAY IN THE US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – Given that the Republicans have the (slim) majority in the U.S. House, they have the ability to promote the next Speaker within their party. House Republicans gathered for internal closed-door meetings this week to elect a new Speaker. Where there was initial hope that a new leader would be determined quickly so that the House may address the looming November 17 deadline to fund the government and provide aid to Israel following the tragic attacks last weekend, all hope for swift resolution has been lost. Frustration and anger within the Republican conference grows on Capitol Hill.

ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK – Following a battle with U.S. House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio, U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana secured enough votes from within the party to be put forth as an official candidate. In that conference vote, he secured 113 votes, which was well shy of the 217 needed on the House floor. To put this in perspective, Republicans can only afford to spare four votes without Democratic help. Ultimately, Leader Scalise assessed he could not get to that magic 217 number and took his name out of contention last night.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE – With Leader Scalise removing his name from contention, Chair Jordan will make another play to secure the gavel. Much like Leader Scalise earlier this week, Chair Jordan has now secured an initial GOP speaker nomination. He secured 124 votes, but again will have to reach the illusive 217 number to be confirmed as Speaker. Some Republican members have already come out and said they will not support his candidacy, making his path to Speaker an uphill battle. We could see another official nomination fail before takeoff.

There are a number of possible outcomes. Although Representative McCarthy remains the undisputed leader of the Republican Party within the U.S. House of Representatives, he will not return as Speaker. Additionally, House membership is not a requirement to hold the position of Speaker of the House. Names of outside candidates could be considered, but every prior Speaker has been a member of the current Congress. This trend will continue.  

The more likely possibilities include granting the authority of Interim Speaker McHenry to bring legislation to the floor. He could remain in this role until the budget is passed or an additional continuing resolution passes to avoid a government shutdown on November 17. Another possibility is a repeat of what happened in 2015 when U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took the gavel. Representative Ryan did not want the Speaker role but was eventually convinced to take it as a third-party consensus option. We could see a relatively “unknown” member of Congress rise up and take the gavel.


Contact GrayRobinson Government Affairs Advisor Blair Hancock or a member of the Government Affairs and Lobbying Section.