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By Sarah May on
 October 16, 2023

Dems signal openness to expanding speaker pro tempore's authority amid speaker stalemate

With the House speaker's race still unresolved and pressing international crises requiring action on the part of Congress, some Democrats are now signaling a willingness to empower Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (NC) to facilitate the passage of legislation in the interim, as Axios reports.

Following the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) earlier this month, McHenry stepped in to temporarily wield the gavel, but thus far, he has been acting under the assumption that his authority is limited to presiding over the process of electing someone new to the top job.

Given that the battle to secure the necessary votes for a successful floor vote still has not concluded after two weeks of deliberations, some Republicans are suggesting that McHenry start interpreting his authority more broadly, as the Associated Press noted.

Rep. Zach Nunn (R-IA) was among those calling for such a shift, saying, “We are in uncharted waters, but it's also very clear that we do not want to have a speaker pro tem who is leading policy. That's not the role.”

“But there is also not a need for the American people's voice to be silenced because Congress can't function,” Nunn added.

Citing the impending government shutdown deadline and emerging events in Israel, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) observed, “There is some thought that in the interest of national security – because we're in a dangerous time and we have to get a national security aid package to Israel – that we could somehow empower McHenry to have more authorities.”

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) is one of several centrist Republicans also actively pushing for McHenry to receive enhanced powers, including that of bringing legislation to the House floor.

“What's taking place in the world – it's important that we take time to empower the present speaker who's there under rules that were never really officially developed,” Joyce said.

A cadre of Democrats has joined the chorus of those who believe McHenry needs expanded powers, with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) writing to the speaker pro tempore on behalf of himself and three other lawmakers who want a vote to be held on the matter, as Axios noted.

The letter outlined a proposal whereby McHenry would receive added power in 15-day increments, and in exchange, he would assure that votes would be held on government funding legislation as well as for aid to Israel and Ukraine.

It was not long after that the 10-member Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats stepped up to endorse the plan.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) acknowledged Democratic “interest” in finding a path forward but noted that there would necessarily have to be limits on what Congress could undertake on McHenry's watch, with some floating the idea that bills would only be able to pass via a two-thirds majority so that only measures enjoying broad support would be brought forward under the current circumstances.

While there does appear to be at least some bipartisan enthusiasm for widening McHenry's official capacity, Kildee cautioned, “It's really easy to say it in concept, it's a lot harder to deliver in reality. It's just whether [Republicans are] willing to sell their hardliners down the river.”

However, as of Monday, it appeared that the entire discussion could soon be moot, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) reportedly making headway in conquering internal opposition to his bid for the gavel and saying, “I feel real good about the momentum we have. We're going to elect a speaker tomorrow.” Whether that prediction is borne out, however, only time will tell.

Written By:
Sarah May

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