Conservatives Warn against House Dems’ Deal to Expand Temporary Speaker’s Powers
Congressional Democrats are offering to expand the powers of the interim Speaker of the House in exchange for more of their bills on the floor. Following Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) removal as speaker, four House Democrats from the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus offered on Friday to back expanding the authority of pro tempore Speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) if he allows the Democrats to present more bills on the House floor.
The proposal would allow for temporary expansions of the pro tempore speaker’s authority in 15-day intervals to consider a relatively narrow legislative agenda to address what the Democrats are calling “our nation’s pressing issues,” including a potential government shutdown and the war in the Middle East. In exchange for their support, the Democrats are asking for half of the suspension bills on the House’s calendar.
Conservatives are expressing concern over the Democrats’ proposal. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins commented, “This is constitutionally questionable and politically dangerous.”
Quena Gonzalez, FRC’s senior director of Government Affairs, explained, “The Speaker Pro Tem’s position was created post-9/11 to ensure continuity of government; it is not an ‘out’ for failing to come together to elect a new speaker. The speaker is third in line for the presidency, and wields considerable power in setting the agenda for the House. Congress is becoming addicted to kicking the can down the road. Now is not the time to set a dangerous precedent by appointing someone not elected by the majority conference to a temporary term. It’s never been contemplated before, and as tempting as it is in a time of pressure, it’s not the right answer. Now is the time for members of the House majority to work for unity.”
Gonzalez continued, “Lincoln, paraphrasing Mark 3:25, famously said, ‘A house divided against itself, cannot stand.’ This isn’t the first time our nation has faced a challenge of leadership, and it will not be the last. We should all be praying today that God will bring humility and unity to the closely-divided House. He answered those prayers in January, and He can again.”
Speaking to Perkins on “Washington Watch” on Wednesday night, constitutional scholar Ken Klukowski was asked if Congress actually has the authority to expand the speaker pro-tem’s power. Klukowski responded, “Absolutely not.” He explained, “Under House rules, the House can adopt rules to manage its own affairs. However, whenever the U.S. Constitution speaks about some aspect of what the House or the Senate can do, obviously the Constitution controls because it’s the supreme law of the land.” The Constitution, Klukowski elucidated, specifically denotes the role of a duly-elected speaker, not that of speaker pro-tem. He concluded, “Congress just needs to properly elect a true Speaker of the House.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) also warned against brokering such a deal with the Democrats, saying, “We’ve never empowered a Speaker-pro-tem with full powers [without] having chosen a duly elected Speaker & for [the] House GOP to join [with] Dems to do so now not only raises constitutional concerns, but represents an unforgivable step to coalition government & likely decimation in 2024.” He also noted that agreeing to this deal would be “in violation of tradition & norms, & possibly the Constitution…”
Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) said much the same, tweeting, “No empowering the Speaker pro tempore. No more attempts to cut deals [with] Dems. No more objecting to the will of the American People.” Ogles further called on House reps not to take weekends off until the Speaker’s vacancy is filled. He said, “We owe it to our constituents to meet … lock the door, and not adjourn until we have selected our new Speaker — weekends are no longer eligible for time off.”
McCarthy was removed from his position as speaker nearly three weeks ago, when eight Republicans sided with all House Democrats to vote him out in a Motion to Vacate. Since then, the Republican majority in the House has struggled to agree on who should replace McCarthy as speaker. House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was considered a frontrunner in the race, but withdrew his name from consideration last week.
The next day, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was selected as a nominee, though secret ballot counts still indicate that he doesn’t have a large enough majority to win the speakership. As The Washington Stand has previously reported, secret ballot counts from the Republican conference mathematically indicate that anywhere from nine to 12 Republican Congressmen are simply refusing to vote on a speaker.
The expanded authority Democrats are offering McHenry would limit him to overseeing votes on foreign aid funding to Israel and Ukraine, funding and appropriations bills to prevent a government shutdown, and appropriations bills at the committee and floor levels.
Jim DeMint, chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute, summarized the situation by saying that “any plan to make McHenry speaker will take a deal with Hakeem Jeffries to get Democrat votes and promise to support Biden spending bills, and will empower the ‘temporary’ bipartisan speaker through next year. GOP would be giving Democrats control of the House.”
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.