The Root Cause of Being Unable to Elect a Speaker

The House Republican Conference has absorbed a critical strategic lesson: In instances where a small fraction of House Members advocates for a specific provision—dubbed here as Sec. 1—that wouldn’t survive a standalone vote on the House floor or may not even secure majority support within the House Republican Conference, then these House GOP members can still successfully embed their desired provision within a bill slated for the House floor, simply by adopting a hardline stance and threatening to derail the entire bill by voting against it, unless their demands are met.

A mere handful of House Members, at least five, can wield considerable influence if they remain resolute under pressure, maintaining a firm “no” until their provision is incorporated into the bill. Their persistence can result in one-of-two outcomes: either the bill is scrapped entirely, or their specific provision – Sec. 1 — is integrated into the bill.

However, this tactic hinges on the absence of an opposing faction within the House Republican ranks, particularly a group exceeding five members, that is equally adamant about voting against the bill if Sec. 1 is included.

House Leadership is cornered in such a scenario since either including or leaving Sec. 1 out means the bill dies, especially if creative legislative crafting of a new Sec. 1 cannot result in either side backing down.

The tough work of years and years of gathering cosponsors, meeting objections, and building consensus for Sec. 1 can be dismissed as old-school legislating; a majority vote on the floor does not matter; what matters is a small band of committed Members of Congress.

The experience of small groups within the House Republicans, predominantly members of the Freedom Caucus, has illuminated a stark truth: when five or more GOP House members band together in unison, they can exert substantial leverage.

This brings us to a pivotal demand: the passage of any bill must be exclusively reliant on only Republican votes.

With this only Republican-votes condition in place, the faction of five members threatening to oppose a bill unless their terms are met typically achieves their objective since the Republican Leadership cannot make a deal and change the bill to get Democratic votes to pass it.

In such a politically charged climate, it is conceivable that such a small band of House members might overreach, making exorbitant demands that prompt other Republicans to counter-threaten, and House Republican Leadership might be compelled to seek immediate Democratic support for urgent legislation, as happened on the Debt Limit increase or a Continuing Resolution to avert a government shutdown.

Consider the hypothetical scenario during a House floor vote for Speaker. If five or more Republicans were to call out the surname Jefferies as their vote, he would ascend to the Speaker’s position, assuming the GOP House Conference falls short of securing 217 votes for their chosen candidate. This dynamic affords Democrats a unique opportunity to sway the outcome of the Republican Speakership by aligning just five GOP votes.

On the other hand, if enough Democrats call out the name of the most acceptable Republican candidate for Speaker so that candidate receives 217 votes, the Democrats can effectively pick the Republican Speaker they want.

However, suppose a GOP faction remains steadfast in their support for a different Speaker candidate, disregarding the majority preference of the House Republican caucus.

In that case, the deadlock can only be broken in two ways: either enough Democrats cast their votes for a Republican, culminating in 217 votes for that candidate, or five Republicans decide to back Jefferies.

For the GOP to successfully elect their Speaker designee, an overwhelming 98% of the House GOP caucus must rally behind that individual.

Conversely, to impede the Republican Speaker designee, a mere 2% of the caucus needs to diverge, casting their votes for an alternative candidate.

Given these dynamics, one must ponder: Is it more plausible for the next Speaker designee to garner 98% of the House GOP Republican support, or is it more likely that upwards of 2% will deviate, opting for a different candidate?  (Most would agree that achieving a mere 2% on a test is a more attainable feat than surpassing 98%.)

The longer the House GOP remains without a Speaker, the likelihood of one of the following two scenarios occurring increases:

  1. The Democrats provide sufficient votes for a GOP candidate of their choosing, enabling that individual to attain the requisite 217 votes and secure the Speakership.
  2. Five Republicans cast their votes for Jefferies or a consensus candidate backed by Jefferies.

Should there be no Speaker elected with 217 House GOP votes this week, my October 5th and Oct. 10th  prediction of a bipartisan Speakership is steadily transforming from a possibility to an impending reality.


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