As House Democrats streamed out of their Thursday caucus meeting, they made two things clear: Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) does not repulse them the same way Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) does, and they are content waiting for Republicans to detail what exactly empowering McHenry would look like.
They were tight-lipped about what concessions they’d demand in exchange for their votes, too, though Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said that Ukraine aid is non-negotiable.
“Aid to Ukraine has got to be part of this,” he said, adding: “If our votes are needed, we’re going to be substantively involved in the definition of what the agenda is.”
The idea of expanding McHenry’s powers has gained steam all week, as House Republicans continue to fail to elect a permanent speaker. And Democrats are much more open to having McHenry in a leadership role than they were Jordan, the latter of whom many of them are still palpably furious at for trying to overturn the 2020 election.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), on her way into the meeting, took a long pause after TPM asked if McHenry is acceptable to the caucus.
“He’s a regular order person and we need to look for that right now,” she said, handing us a printout festooned with handcuffs and reading: “Day 16, Congress handcuffed, no pay for obstructionists.”
Other Democrats, on the way out of the meeting and clutching boxed Panera Bread lunches, listed the deal breakers a hypothetical speaker would have to avoid to get their support.
“I would want somebody who voted to lift the debt ceiling so that our country wouldn’t go in default, and that would vote to keep government open,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said, adding: “And also I would want to have somebody who did not vote to overturn the election.”
Many echoed the same points: S/he must have voted to lift the debt ceiling this summer, and to certify the electoral college votes on January 6. McHenry did both; Jordan only voted to raise the debt limit.
Democrats have continued to move in lockstep this week, loath to freelance in conversations with reporters without approval from leadership. Many have responded to questions with similar talking points, saying that they’re eager to reopen the House and get back to business, but that they’ll keep their powder dry until they see if Republicans can even produce a resolution to empower McHenry.
It’s not at all clear that they can. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) told reporters that over half of the Republican conference wouldn’t vote to expand McHenry’s powers — making it increasingly unlikely that enough Republicans would buck the party and join with Democrats.
“Most consider it a very dangerous precedent to set that he can without being selected Speaker — cause he was not elected, his name was written down as a continuity of government until a speaker can be elected — that he can takeover the Congress,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) told reporters after the Republican conference meeting Thursday.
For Republicans, it’s much easier, and safer — both politically and, now, physically — to move as a pack.
“I’ve talked to a lot of Republicans individually, many of them who are embarrassed who are horrified who are disgusted with the way their conference is behaving,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) told reporters. “But they’re all afraid, afraid to say anything publicly when you see what happens to some of these Republicans who voted against Jordan.”
The split within the Republican conference tracks with how members have been reacting to expanding the pro tem’s power all week. Some, particularly the never-Jordans, have been all about the idea. Others have blasted it as “unconstitutional.”
For over two weeks now, House Republicans have shown themselves spectacularly unable to agree on much of anything. The McHenry offramp is, so far, shaping up to be just as fraught.
“Their conference is filled with narcissists who only give a shit about themselves,” McGovern said. “They don’t really care about this country or what’s going on in the world.”
Emine Yücel contributed reporting from Capitol Hill.