In their first big meeting after an almost week-long cooling-off period since the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans talked a lot about the need to replace him and how to make that process smoother — but found little agreement.
The meeting, held a day before speaker candidates are set to make their presentations to the GOP conference to win supporters, was intended more as a free-for-all discussion than a business meeting to decide official party policy.
Still, members exiting the meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol on Monday night expressed a variety of opinions on how quickly they could select a speaker and who it might be.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Republicans need to find a speaker by Wednesday, especially in light of the new conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“I said the world is watching what’s happening, and we need to come together and unify behind a speaker. And I think there is general consensus that they want that,” McCaul said.
But others were less sure.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said the party needs to hold accountable in some way the eight House Republicans who voted with 208 Democrats to provide the winning margin to oust McCarthy.
“I think it was wrong what happened to Kevin McCarthy, and I think that the people who have done wrong to the American people, they’re the ones who need to be held accountable,” she said.
“There’s definitely frustration toward those eight people, and there’s quite a few members who said they’re not ready to move forward to elect a speaker.”
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to topple McCarthy, said he and the seven other dissidents came in for pointed but respectful criticism at the meeting.
But asked if he thought a new speaker would be decided on by Wednesday, Burchett said he thought so.
“I just think we will,” he said.
Officially, only two candidates have declared for the speaker’s post: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking Republican as the House majority leader, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
But the picture got more opaque on Monday after McCarthy, who said last week that he would not run again for the post that it took him 15 tries to win last time, signaled he was open to serving again.
At a press conference to discuss Israel and Gaza, McCarthy was asked if he would accept being nominated. “The conference can decide,” he said.
The circumstances of McCarthy’s ouster have left some House Republicans bitter at both the Democrats, who they see as behaving opportunistically at the expense of the House as an institution, and the eight GOP dissidents.
McCarthy remained popular within the conference, and the setting of the press conference on Monday morning seemed intended to remind wavering or undecided House Republicans that he was still available.
“There’s a group that’s still aligned with Kevin McCarthy and would like to bring him back as speaker. There’s a number supporting Jim Jordan. There’s a number supporting Steve Scalise,” Greene said.
It’s unlikely, though, that McCarthy could make it back into the speaker’s chair unless enough of the eight who voted against him changed their minds to support him. Burchett, for one, said he would not change his vote.