It’s fair to say many Republicans are expecting a smooth opening day. Instead, the House adjourned on Monday without electing a Speaker.
“I see volatility there [in the House] About me. We get a majority and then we start a circular firing squad,” Chen said. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), a leading member of the Republican Party. “Sen. McConnell has his detractors, of course. But he is a strong, consistent leader who cares about his members. That is what you need.”
“I hope they can get through the impasse,” he added of his former House colleagues. “Also, I’m very glad I’m not back on the council.”
While McConnell celebrates surpassing Mike Mansfield’s 16-year mark as party leader, the Kentuckian has his own problems. He will lead the 49-seat minority and faced his first contested leadership contest two months ago when he fended off a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). McConnell won that race handily, but it was a reminder of the unrest in a party that has thrown away several Senate and gubernatorial races that could be won in 2022.
Despite Republicans winning the House majority, the energy in that chamber proved far less stable than its Senate counterpart as it labored to choose a speaker on Tuesday. While lawmaking is slow with a divided Congress, Senate and House Republican factions should finally get their act together, at least to keep the government lights on and raise the debt ceiling.
First you have to play House Bedlam.
“My guess is that eventually, they will get organized there because at some point everyone will realize that chaos is not a good alternative to start Congress,” said the Senate Minority Whip. John Thune (RSD) “This is clearly not a smooth transition.”
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) both faced opposition in their final campaigns to lead the Democratic Party, but ultimately came out on top. Current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the incoming House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffreys (DN.Y.) party has been unopposed in their recent leadership campaigns after overperforming in the midterm elections.
Both GOP leaders, by contrast, faced infighting after the party lost the midterm elections with the Democratic leader. Not to mention previous dramas, including the ousting of former speakers Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio).
“Not all Democrats obviously love Pelosi,” Chen said. James Lankford (R-Okla.), another former House member. “Republicans are very independent. I think it will be loud for a day or two and then they will figure it out and we will become a country.
However, he admitted that the disruption of Congress was “good drama” but ultimately a “decision has to be made” on a new speaker. And bigger worries await around the corner.
The thorniest deadline looming for Republicans is the debt ceiling, which routinely divides the GOP and could destabilize the economy — or worse. Ultimately, the GOP House will need to pass a bill that raises the debt ceiling, possibly sometime this year, and at least nine Republicans will need to break a filibuster to clear the Senate. A similar dynamic will emerge with this fall on government funding.
Beyond that, House Republicans will face pressure to pass conservative legislation — with just a few votes remaining — and push the Democratic Senate to consider it.
“Electing McCarthy as speaker may be the easiest thing he does all year. And then trying to pass legislation with a majority will be very difficult,” Chen said. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Especially if you have people who aren’t particularly interested in making a legislative decision and are more interested in getting their attention.”
McConnell clarified Tuesday that he still supports McCarthy, saying in an interview that he is “pulling for him.” Many GOP senators expressed hope that, ultimately, McCarthy would win.
Still, there was a vague sense among Senate Republicans, even from the minority, that tight margins in a divided chamber could force them to take a leadership role for the GOP over the next two years.
“My big hope is that they’re going to pull together. It’s very important that they learn how to govern. We’ll do everything we can in the Senate to provide leadership,” Chen said. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), another member of the GOP leadership. “I think people in the Senate will be able to see a steady influence and understand more that while we have differences, we can still find a path forward.”
Ernst opposed December’s $1.7 trillion government spending bill, which divided Senate Republican leaders and animated McCarthy’s campaign for speaker. The Californian has repeatedly lambasted the law while campaigning for the House caucus, even reaching out to GOP senators in December to make his case. Nine House Republicans ultimately voted for it, a sign that the House and Senate GOP were misguided not only on political strategy, but also on the legislation that must be passed.
McCarthy wanted a short-term spending bill to give him and his party more leverage in the new Congress, but Senate Republicans cut a deal with Senate Democrats to fund the government through September. Many GOP Senators were obviously worried House Republicans may not have been organized enough to fund the government earlier this year, given the budding Speaker brouhaha.
Tuesday was worse than they thought. Given that confusion, Capito concluded that eliminating a potential shutdown fight in February “would end up being a very smart move.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.