Calls Intensify to Expand Interim House Speaker’s Authority Amidst Republican Stalemate in Congress

by Andrew Wright
Interim House Speaker

Upon assuming the role of House speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry garnered significant online attention for the vigor with which he brought down the gavel, symbolizing a House of Representatives in disarray.

His sudden assignment to the role last week, following the extraordinary removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker, has seen McHenry exercise considerable caution in wielding his newfound authority. Refraining from pushing the boundaries of his provisional position, the North Carolina Republican has adhered to established procedures, thus maintaining a state of inertia in the House while Republicans decide on their next Speaker.

As the deadlock continues into a second week, growing impatience among lawmakers has led to increased calls for McHenry to employ a more expansive interpretation of his powers to restore functionality to the House. These calls imply a potential paradigm shift that could have lasting ramifications on the procedures of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, noted the precariousness of the current situation, stating, “While it’s clear that we don’t want a pro tem Speaker driving policy, there is also no justification for the muting of the American electorate because Congress is dysfunctional.”

McHenry has remained circumspect regarding his perception of the interim role, focusing on rallying Republicans to unite behind a new Speaker. In a recent closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus, where Majority Leader Steve Scalise rescinded his candidacy for the Speakership, McHenry humorously threatened to sequester lawmakers without sustenance until they reached a consensus, according to Rep. Marc Molinaro, who attended the meeting.

Navigating an unprecedented political impasse, McHenry faces not only internal party friction but also escalating global issues, including an intensifying conflict between Israel and Palestine and the looming threat of a U.S. government shutdown.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been advocating for decisive action on a bipartisan resolution in support of Israel, which would typically pass without hindrance. The current legislative deadlock has made even this routine matter a procedural challenge.

A contingent of moderate Republicans led by Ohio’s Rep. David Joyce is crafting a resolution aimed at officially expanding McHenry’s authority to introduce legislation to the House floor.

Initiated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the role of speaker pro tempore was designed as a contingency measure for catastrophic events that incapacitate legislative leaders. The present deadlock, originating not from an external crisis but from internal dissension, was not envisaged by the architects of this system.

While Joyce proposes empowering McHenry for up to 90 days to advance legislation, it remains uncertain whether the fractured Republican caucus could coalesce behind even a provisional leader. Both hardline conservatives and mainstream Republicans seem committed to focusing on the election of a permanent Speaker.

Democrats, wary of establishing a potentially exploitable precedent, argue that McHenry’s function is solely to facilitate the election of a new Speaker. However, legal scholars note that the House has the latitude to adapt or even breach its own rules in unprecedented circumstances.

Republican lawmakers were caught off guard when Scalise withdrew his nomination, further complicating the quest for a new Speaker. “It’s incredibly vexing. We ought to be here daily to accomplish tasks, and that is not happening,” lamented Rep. Jen Kiggans, a Virginia Republican.

Contributors to this report include Kevin Freking, Farnoush Amiri, and Lisa Mascaro of Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Interim House Speaker

What is the main issue causing the deadlock in the House of Representatives?

The main issue causing the deadlock is the inability of the Republican party to unite around a candidate for the position of Speaker of the House. This has led to a state of inertia and legislative impasse in the House.

Who is Patrick McHenry and what is his current role?

Patrick McHenry is a Republican Representative from North Carolina who has been temporarily appointed as the Speaker pro tempore of the House. His role is provisional, filling the void left by the removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.

What are lawmakers proposing to resolve the stalemate?

Some lawmakers, particularly within the Republican party, are advocating for an expansion of the interim Speaker’s powers, allowing him to bring legislation to the floor. A group led by Ohio’s Rep. David Joyce is crafting a resolution aimed at officially expanding McHenry’s authority for a limited period.

How do Democrats view the situation?

Democrats are generally opposed to the idea of expanding the Speaker pro tempore’s powers. They argue that the role was created for the sole purpose of facilitating the election of a new Speaker and caution against setting a new precedent that could be exploited in the future.

What are the broader implications of this deadlock?

The deadlock has a wide-ranging impact beyond the immediate issue of electing a new Speaker. It affects the legislative process and raises questions about governance, national security, and the effectiveness of the American political system.

Are there any precedents for the current situation?

There are no direct precedents for the current situation. The role of Speaker pro tempore was created as a contingency measure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but it was not designed to address the kind of internal party dissension that is currently causing the deadlock.

What external challenges are adding pressure to this internal deadlock?

In addition to the internal party dynamics, there are escalating global issues such as a worsening conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as the looming threat of a U.S. government shutdown. These factors are increasing the urgency to resolve the deadlock.

What do legal experts say about the situation?

Legal scholars like Josh Chafetz, a professor of law and politics at Georgetown Law School, note that the House has the latitude to adapt or even breach its own rules in unprecedented circumstances. This may serve as an argument for those advocating changes to resolve the deadlock.

More about Interim House Speaker

  • Understanding the Role of the Speaker of the House
  • History of Legislative Deadlocks in U.S. Congress
  • The Republican Party’s Internal Struggles: An Overview
  • Functions and Powers of the Speaker Pro Tempore
  • Constitutional Interpretations of Congressional Rules and Procedures
  • The Implications of Legislative Stalemates on National Security
  • The Traditional Procedures for Electing a New Speaker
  • Legal Perspectives on Congressional Authority and Rule Changes

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Mike O'Neal October 13, 2023 - 2:57 pm

So now they want to give more powers to the temp Speaker? Doesn’t that just skirt around the issue rather than solving it?

Tom Q. October 14, 2023 - 4:00 am

If this doesn’t wake people up to how dysfunctional our system is, don’t know what will. Time for a change, seriously.

Sarah M. October 14, 2023 - 4:20 am

This article is eye-opening. The fact that we’re in such uncharted territory really says something about our political climate right now.

Emily R. October 14, 2023 - 4:39 am

Serious times call for serious measures I guess. But still, if they bend the rules now, what’s stopping them from doing it again?

John D. October 14, 2023 - 9:42 am

Wow, never thought I’d see the day when the house can’t even decide on a Speaker. What’s going on?


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