The House is in uncharted territory after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted from his Speakership this week, leaving members trying to navigate a way forward amid the chaos.
McCarthy was booted from the top spot in a 216-210 vote on Tuesday.
The situation is unprecedented, leaving many wondering what comes next.
Who is leading the House right now — and what can they do?
Immediately after McCarthy’s ouster on Tuesday, North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry was declared the House’s acting Speaker, formally known as the House Speaker pro tempore.
After being elected to the Speakership in January in a dramatic 15-ballot election, McCarthy created a list of members who could serve as acting Speaker in the case the role was left vacant. Per House rules, that list was exclusively shared with the Clerk of the House.
McHenry, a close McCarthy ally, was picked from that list and will serve as Speaker pro tempore until the House elects a new Speaker.
The House rules for a Speaker pro tem state the member in the role “may exercise such authorities of the Office of Speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a Speaker or Speaker pro tempore.”
Exactly what this means for the authority of the Speaker pro tempore is murky.
Some argue the temporary Speaker is only able to preside over an election for the next Speaker. Others believe the acting Speaker has the same powers as an elected Speaker.
Molly E. Reynolds, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, pointed out during a panel discussion Wednesday the requirement of the Speaker’s back-up list was designed in 2003, after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to ensure the Congress was “well situated” in the case of a mass incapacitating event.
Because of the nature of the rule’s original intention, Reynolds said she is led to believe the Speaker pro tempore’s rule is not limited, while still noting its vagueness.
“But the language of the rule itself isn’t entirely clear on what powers the Speaker pro tem has, whether it’s all of the powers of the office of the Speaker, or sort of just authorities that allow him to effectuate a new election for Speaker,” Reynolds said.
Is legislation at a standstill?
The House is facing down a ticking clock to a Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government, having narrowly avoided a shutdown last weekend. And plenty of lawmakers are already expressing concern.
Immediately after he was declared Speaker pro tempore, McHenry said the House would go into recess to allow Democrats and Republicans to meet separately and “discuss the path forward.”
No votes are expected in the House for the rest of the week, though questions remain about whether McHenry can even refer bills to committee while in the temporary spot.
McHenry’s actions suggest he likely will not take up all the powers of the Speaker, which include bill referrals and votes.
Reynolds suggested McHenry’s choice to act in a more limited way could be because he has an eye toward precedent.
“When we’re in uncharted territory like we are right now, anything becomes possible precedent for the future,” Reynolds said. “When the precedents are silent, really any new precedent is something that can be pointed to in the future.”
Regardless of McHenry’s powers, it is unlikely the House will work to pass the critical appropriations bills until a new House Speaker is elected. If Congress does not pass the remaining spending bills or another short-term spending measure, the government will shut down.
When will a vote for a new Speaker take place?
Republicans are expected to hold an internal candidate forum next Tuesday and an election on Wednesday. The internal election will be held via secret ballot and the nominee must receive a majority.
Democrats will nominate Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) for Speaker.
Then, a Speaker’s election will need to take place on the House floor, where the winner will need a majority vote — no easy feat given the anger and divides within the majority party.
In January, McCarthy needed a historic 15 ballots over four days to win the gavel. Democrats voted in lockstep for Jeffries while about GOP 20 holdouts demanded concessions before eventually casting their votes for McCarthy.
Who could be the next Speaker?
Before a vote can even occur, the Republican Party needs to coalesce around one candidate to elect as a nominee. Two Republican members threw their hat into the ring Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Speaker was ousted, with more potential bids on the way.
Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)
Scalise, the now-top-ranking House Republican and seemingly most obvious pick for the party, announced his bid Wednesday afternoon. He has the advantage of years of GOP leadership behind him, and is seen as more ideologically conservative than McCarthy was.
Multiple members, including Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) have already thrown their support behind the Louisiana Republican. Multiple GOP sources told The Hill Scalise has been having conversations with members about his bid.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Jordan is the chairman of the powerful and high-profile House Judiciary Committee and a founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. He is seen as likely to appeal to hard-line conservatives and has a national profile.
Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) have already endorsed Jordan’s bid.
John Mark Hansen, a professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, told The Hill, defections on either side could prove problematic for Scalise or Jordan’s bids.
“I could image the extreme right wingers getting behind either Scalise or Jordan, both of whom have been sympathetic to their positions in the past,” Hansen said. “…So I could see those guys getting on board but the question is, how many people do you lose in the middle?”
Other possible contenders:
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, is making calls to other Republicans before announcing a decision, a source familiar with his plans told The Hill.
Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) said Tuesday that he will nominate former President Trump for Speaker, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Wednesday that she will support Trump. But while a Speaker does not need to be a member of the House, it is unlikely he would receive any serious backing.
Other names floated include Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Emily Brooks contributed reporting.