A historic stalemate over choosing a new Speaker has left the House GOP divided and the chamber unorganized and in chaos.
After three votes on Tuesday in which Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) failed to win a majority and those opposed to his Speakership showed no signs of standing down, the question of how the fight will end is growing more intriguing.
McCarthy and his allies have not given up, but McCarthy was weakened by the Tuesday votes. A number of observers have questioned whether he can win a vote or whether a new contender could emerge.
Or could some Republicans join with Democrats to reach a governing deal?
Here are three possible scenarios for how the drama could end.
McCarthy drops out and Scalise becomes Speaker
If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy drops out, Rep. Steve Scalise, as the No. 2 House Republican, could become the Speaker. (AP)
Speculation that this could all end with the No. 2 House Republican — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) — as the Speaker has ticked up in the last 24 hours.
Opponents of McCarthy have long said that they think he should bow out of the Speaker’s race to make way for an alternative GOP candidate.
Scalise is seen as the most obvious potential alternative — even as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has the support of McCarthy detractors.
As a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Scalise has the conservative bona fides some members might be looking for.
But Scalise is supporting McCarthy, and gave a nominating speech in favor of him on the House floor on Tuesday. He is also politically paralyzed from making moves toward the gavel while McCarthy is still in the race.
McCarthy would almost certainly need to decide to step aside to clear the way for Scalise.
Even then, Scalise could face hurdles.
There is a question of whether Scalise is seen as too similar to McCarthy to be a viable alternative.
“They’re almost, to me, they’re the same. They represent a lot of the same ideology, and they’ve built this team together,” said moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “So what’s the purpose of them demanding Kevin to step down?”
Other members supporting McCarthy are not willing to start seriously considering Scalise just yet, shutting down talk of a Scalise Speakership.
McCarthy, meanwhile, said on Tuesday night that there is no scenario in which he bows out of the Speaker’s race.
Moderate Republicans work with Democrats to elect an alternative
Former Rep. Fred Upton, a moderate who voted to impeach former President Trump, is being floated as an alternative to Kevin McCarthy. (AP)
Bacon has said for weeks that if it becomes clear that McCarthy cannot win and he exits the race, he is open to working with Democrats to elect a moderate GOP compromise Speaker.
Former Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a moderate who voted in favor of impeaching Trump, has been floated as a possible alternative even though he is not a member of the House anymore. Upton did not run for reelection last year.
House rules do not require that the Speaker be a sitting member, though such a situation has never happened in American history.
Upton has not ruled out the possibility, telling The Detroit News that being Speaker is “an intriguing suggestion that I have not rejected.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is one Democrat who has expressed openness to working with Republicans to find a compromise alternative. But any Democratic cooperation would come at a steep price.
“There have to be, in my view, at least two conditions that are met first. They can’t hold this country hostage with the debt ceiling or government shutdowns. And second, they can’t have subpoena power to do frivolous investigations against the president,” Khanna said on CNN Tuesday evening.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) said Tuesday evening he has not had outreach from Republicans leadership or individuals about agreeing to a moderate GOP alternative Speaker.
“We are looking for a willing partner to solve problems for the American people, not save the Republicans from their dysfunction,” Jeffries said.
McCarthy wears down his opponents and Democrats to win
Kevin McCarthy could still win the Speakership, but he has to find a way to convince the 20 GOP members who did not vote for him on Tuesday. (Greg Nash)
McCarthy and his allies are still working to find a way to win over the 20 GOP members who did not vote for him on Tuesday.
He is also crunching the numbers, and looking at paths to the gavel with fewer than 218 votes – the threshold for a majority and winning the gavel if every member votes.
“You’re sitting at 202 votes, so you need technically just 11 more votes to win,” McCarthy said after emerging from meetings with allies on Tuesday night.
“Democrats have 212 votes. You get 213 votes, and the others don’t say another name, that’s how you can win. You can win with 218. You could win with 222. But if you want to look at how you have to go about doing it,” McCarthy said.
The House Speaker is elected by a majority of all those voting for a specific Speaker candidate, not necessarily all members. Those voting “present” and those who are absent do not count toward that total, lowering the threshold.
It is unclear, though, what McCarthy could do at this point to not only win over 11 of his detractors, but also convince 9 more to vote “present” or not at all. No breakthroughs were made in negotiations with McCarthy allies and detractors on Tuesday night.
The suggestion of allowing McCarthy to win with fewer than 218 votes was immediately shot down, though, by McCarthy opponents like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
“I just don’t see that as the right path to a strong leadership position,” Roy said.
Another option for McCarthy is to have patience and try to wear down his detractors in hopes they will flip.
He could also try to wear down Democrats if the House goes days without a Speaker, waiting for enough weary members to be absent to give him the gavel.