The attacks in Israel and demand for U.S. aid are injecting new urgency into recent talks among centrist House Republicans to attempt to reinstate Kevin McCarthy as House speaker, with scores of Republican lawmakers now discussing the effort.
Calls and texts among GOP members picked up dramatically after news of the attacks reached the U.S. overnight Friday. The message, per one House Republican lawmaker involved in the long-shot effort: “We need to bring back Kevin, immediately.”
Lawmakers are concerned that another drawn out speakership battle will delay action to aid Israel after attacks that sent America’s closest Middle East ally into a state of war. That’s time, these Republicans say, that they don’t have during a major emergency.
“A short window is all we need in the House to reinstate Kevin McCarthy and change the rule,” Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) told POLITICO.
Duarte also said he thought the Biden administration’s positions and “our disarray in the House,” were factors in the timing of the attacks.
“Israel attacks have moderates holding out for the one person who can truly unite us: Kevin McCarthy,” according to a third House GOP lawmaker.
McCarthy is “aware and grateful” of the growing effort to reinstate him, but he’s not engaging at this point, this lawmaker added.
The attempt to reinstall McCarthy faces long odds. Two strong candidates are running active campaigns with only days to go before voting, and many dozens of Republicans have already made endorsements. There is little reason to think the basic math for McCarthy has changed for McCarthy since last Tuesday.
Republicans behind the push, however, believe the urgency to address the terror attacks and aid Israel could pressure the eight House Republicans who voted against McCarthy earlier this week to switch their stance. The third House GOP lawmaker said the members behind the push are still livid at the Republicans who voted against McCarthy, a staunch Israel supporter, and are “using this moment to show how wrong they were.”
McCarthy played an active role in the House GOP response to the attacks Saturday, railing against the Biden administration’s actions and noting the House is currently unable to move major legislation without a speaker.
“There is nothing the House can do until they elect a speaker, and I don’t know if that happens quickly,” McCarthy told Fox News.
Lawmakers are also are looking into outlining more clear powers for acting Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry in the short-term or possibly by electing him speaker outright.
The House could take other actions to get around McHenry’s restrained role, including voting him in as a speaker pro tempore, thus shedding his acting title to give him more authority while Republicans figure out who they want to lead them. If McHenry attempts to act, on Israel legislation or any other, without broader authority from the House, he risks being challenged on the floor and votes to overturn his actions.
The push for McCarthy or McHenry are more palatable options for many vulnerable Republicans, especially those in Biden districts, who are not closely aligned with either of the current candidates Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
A major complicating factor is that both Democrats and Republicans in the House have made clear that they are interpreting McHenry’s role in its narrowest form, which at this point would limit him from bringing legislation to the floor before a speaker is elected.
There is no precedent for how broadly McHenry can exert powers within the House, and that has driven some Republicans to explore other paths to move legislation to bolster Israel in the coming days or weeks.
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said Saturday that she will introduce legislation to supplement funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and is urging Republicans and Democrats to “quickly bring this bill to the floor.”
“Our disunity in Capitol Hill is weakening America’s position as a global leader and hindering our ability to respond to atrocities committed by Hamas on the Israeli people,” Rep. Jim Baird (R-Ind.) said Saturday. “We must stop these political games and show leadership during this international emergency.”
But that — as seen in January — is not a swift process. House Republicans are expected to host a candidate forum on Tuesday and hold a closed door, secret ballot internal election on Wednesday. With neither candidate close to the 218 votes needed to clinch the gavel, it is not yet clear when it could reach the floor for a final vote.
Other House Republicans have called for McHenry and House GOP conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to move up the speaker election that’s slated to begin next Wednesday.
“We need to have a forum Sunday or Monday,” Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) posted on X Saturday.
“We are paralyzed as a body,” Alford added. “World events dictate urgency.”