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The House GOP’s fight may have just begun

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Oct 04, 2023 View in browser

By Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels and Ryan Lizza

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With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

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JUST POSTED — “Giuliani’s Drinking, Long a Fraught Subject, Has Trump Prosecutors’ Attention,” by NYT’s Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman: “[RUDY] GIULIANI’s drinking has been the pulsing drumbeat punctuating his descent — not the cause of his reputational collapse but the ubiquitous evidence, well before Election Day in 2020, that something was not right with the former president’s most incautious lieutenant.”

Rep. Kevin Mccarthy speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as Speaker of the House, Oct. 3, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

THE DAY AFTER — KEVIN McCARTHY’s reign as House speaker is finished. But the chaos and infighting that plagued his brief tenure isn’t. In fact, it might just be beginning.

As it stands, the plan is straightforward enough: Take a week, elect a new speaker, and roll merrily along. Acting Speaker Pro Tempore PATRICK McHENRY, McCarthy’s hand-picked interim caretaker, told fellow House Republicans behind closed doors last night that he plans to hold a candidate debate Tuesday, with votes to follow Wednesday.

We can tell you this morning, there isn’t much sense inside the House GOP that it will be able to heal its bitter divisions and coalesce around a new speaker anywhere near that soon.

It‘s certainly not for a lack of candidates. Majority Leader STEVE SCALISE, who has long eyed the big gavel, is hot out of the gate making calls. So, too, is Rep. JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio), the right-wing patriarch who transformed from McCarthy antagonist to ally, and Rep. KEVIN HERN (R-Okla.), the third-termer who chairs the Republican Study Committee. Heck, we’ve even got members (and one prominent TV host) pushing the Speaker DONALD TRUMP fever dream.

We’ll get back to the horse race in a moment, but the challenge for House Republicans right now isn’t finding someone willing to do the job. It’s whether a profoundly fractured conference can muster enough unity to hand that new speaker any kind of a durable working majority.

Many Republicans, in fact, don’t seem ready to focus on the election. Some are so furious with Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) for deposing McCarthy that they’re talking seriously about expelling him from the Republican Conference in revenge. Others are trained on the rules, eager to make changes that would make it harder to oust a future speaker.

“Otherwise, this can just happen again,” said a person involved in the centrist Main Street Caucus, who met last night and discussed ideas, according to our colleagues Meredith Lee Hill and Olivia Beavers.

Yet after tasting their own power, it seems unlikely that Gaetz & Co. will want to stop it from happening again by, say, relinquishing the one-man trigger for an ouster vote. They could easily demand that McCarthy’s successor keep the status quo intact, leaving the House GOP riding the same rollercoaster.

And let’s not forget the Sword of Damocles hanging just six weeks ahead for whoever gets tapped as party leader: The Nov. 17 shutdown deadline, which any new speaker will immediately have to navigate, facing the same intense pressures McCarthy did — between conservatives pushing for sharp budget cuts and policy concessions and Democrats who see no reason to renegotiate spending levels with a weakened House majority.

One possibility we heard a lot about last night: That McHenry could end up staying in his temporary job a good deal longer than he currently anticipates.

The veteran lawmaker told his fellow Republicans last night his powers are circumscribed — that he can only preside over the election of a new speaker, not general House business. But as the first-ever interim speaker appointed under vacancy rules, his situation is quite literally unprecedented, and there are some rules wonks who argue that the North Carolinian can govern as freely as his colleagues let him.

That might suit many Republicans just fine if the alternative is a reprise of the extended chaos that launched this GOP House majority back in January, with factions across the conference jockeying for rules concessions, committee assignments, and other political favors as the cast of would-be speakers tries to put together a bloc of 218.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: The early money is on Scalise as the most likely candidate to emerge with the necessary level of support to win a floor election. That sense got a big boost last night when Majority Whip TOM EMMER threw his support behind Scalise, a noteworthy move given that some on the hard right have put the Minnesota Republican on their own speaker shortlists.

But Scalise has some obstacles: He’ll have to battle the perception that he’s in no better position to govern than McCarthy was. And the vacancy comes at a tough time: He’s undergoing chemotherapy to treat multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, and despite his vigor these past few weeks, some Republicans worry whether he’s up for such a taxing job.

Still, we’re told by multiple GOP sources that if anyone can be in position to win the nomination for speaker by this time next week, it’s Scalise. Whether he can then get to 218 on the floor is a much tougher proposition.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s possible foray into a speaker’s race is somewhat of a surprise. While the Ohio Republican ran against McCarthy seven years ago, that was seen mainly as a bid to extract concessions for conservatives. In fact, that’s how Jordan has spent his career — as a thorn in leadership’s side, constantly pushing them to the right on matters of policy and strategy.

Until now, he’s shown little interest in actually being one of the members who actually govern and call the shots.

Jordan, however, has undergone quite a makeover in recent years — ever since he made peace with McCarthy, who backed him as he moved to lead the Oversight and Judiciary committees. Indeed, many Republicans who once regularly complained about his constant harping on leadership have come to appreciate Jordan’s own abilities as a leader — particularly on investigative matters.

As for Hern and others who may emerge: It’s certainly too early to rule anyone out. There could be an appetite for a fresher face, particularly among the House GOP’s centrist bloc. But right now, it’s up to the more established names to show they can unify and lead.

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. What are you hearing about the horse race? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.


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THE HEADLINES — POLITICO: “McCarthy Out” … WaPo: “McCarthy voted out as speaker” … NYT: “McCarthy First To Be Removed As Speaker” … WSJ: “House Removes McCarthy as Speaker" … Bakersfield Californian: "Historic Ouster"

THE BIG SWINGS — “The House GOP Is A Failed State,” by John F. Harris: “The party elects leaders with no capacity to lead members who have no interest in being led. McCarthy is like one of the succession of short-lived Soviet leaders who followed the long reign of LEONID BREZHNEV, before the radical disruption of MIKHAIL GORBACHEV at the end of the Cold War.”

… “McCarthy’s Extraordinary Downfall Reflects an Ungovernable G.O.P.,” by NYT’s Carl Hulse: “With the G.O.P. base increasingly hungry for insurgency and confrontation, Mr. McCarthy found himself out of step, a problem that is likely to plague any candidate who tries to succeed him. … For Mr. McCarthy, who practiced a management style of doing and saying pretty much whatever it would take to get through the day, tomorrow finally arrived.”

… “The rudderless GOP careens toward 2024,” by Burgess Everett, Sarah Ferris and Ally Mutnick: “McCarthy’s loss to eight rebel Republicans is the latest and most acute example of a party now so wracked by division that it cannot govern itself. … McCarthy’s undoing leaves the only part of government Republicans control rudderless, making it harder to operate day-to-day, let alone tackle big challenges.“


— The human lightning rod: “Matt Gaetz, a Polarizing Figure in Congress, Is Polarizing at Home, Too,” by NYT’s Kalyn Wolfe, Patricia Mazzei and Colbi Edmonds. Featuring this defense of Gaetz from a constituent: “‘People didn’t like [segregationist Alabama Gov.] GEORGE WALLACE nationally, but the people who elected him and represented him did,’ [JOEL TERRY MAY, 67,] said. ‘That’s what Gaetz also understands. When you represent somebody, you want them to maintain the feel of the people. People want to see Washington work. They want their representatives to have a pulse on the area.’”

— Democrats say good riddance: “Months of bad blood between McCarthy and Democrats help sink his speakership,” by WaPo’s Paul Kane: “Some Democrats pitied him and all his efforts to appease a group of intransigent right-wing radicals. But they said he had to pay a price for making so many promises and backing away from them. They recalled how, immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, McCarthy blamed President Donald Trump and called for an independent commission to investigate, only to throw his support behind Trump after he left office and to oppose a deep investigation.”

— The GOP eats its own: “The future of the GOP is now its past,” by WaPo’s Philip Bump. McCarthy, ERIC CANTOR and former Speaker PAUL RYAN were once the titular “young guns” as their 2010 book put it — a trio of youngish Republicans at the forefront of a new generation of conservative leaders. “Each later suffered remarkable rebukes from the party they wanted to lead,” Bump writes. “Reading the book in 2023 — as McCarthy’s rebuke is unfolding — makes clear why it happened: The direction they were hoping to lead the party is not the direction the base wanted to go.”

Mike Pence speaks at an Associated Press event at Georgetown University in Washington, Oct. 3, 2023. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

The 2024 contenders react:

  • Former VP MIKE PENCE: “I'm deeply disappointed that a handful of Republicans would partner with all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to out the Speaker of the House.”
  • Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS took an odd swing at McCarthy, House Republicans and those who supported the motion to vacate in an interview yesterday, telling Scripps News he opposed McCarthy “when it wasn’t cool, years ago,” while he was in Congress. He blamed Trump for putting McCarthy “into that position.” And he waved off the ouster as “the typical theatrics we’re used to seeing.”

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On the Hill

The Senate is in, with a recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly conference meetings. The House is out.

3 things to watch …

  1. Texas boasts the largest state delegation in the House GOP, and you can expect the group to throw its weight around in the coming leadership shuffle. That starts with an 11 a.m. lunch today, to which Scalise, Emmer and Hern have been invited, per Sarah Ferris. Expect to see a throng of exhausted reporters outside.
  2. Busy day in the Senate Commerce Committee: At 10 a.m., the panel will hold a hearing on MICHAEL WHITAKER’s nomination as FAA administrator, as the agency looks to have its first Senate-confirmed leader in 18 months. And at 2 p.m., Commerce Secretary GINA RAIMONDO will testify on CHIPS Act implementation.
  3. It’s moving day for NANCY PELOSI, who was ordered to vacate her Capitol hideaway yesterday by McHenry in one of his first acts as acting speaker pro tempore. One hitch: The former speaker is in San Francisco for Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN’s funeral tomorrow. But Democratic leadership staff helped start the move last night, according to Nicholas Wu and Daniella Diaz, who broke the story.

At the White House

JOE BIDEN will deliver an update on the administration’s student debt cancellation efforts at 1 p.m. Biden will receive the President’s Daily Briefing at 2:15 p.m. with VP KAMALA HARRIS.


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Judge Arthur Engoron presides over former President Donald Trump's fraud trial in New York Supreme Court on Oct. 3, 2023, in New York. | Pool photo by Dave Sanders

A GAG ORDER MEETS AN UNGAGGABLE OBJECT — During yesterday's civil business fraud trial, New York State Court Judge ARTHUR ENGORON placed a limited gag order on former President DONALD TRUMP after Trump criticized the judge’s law clerk, ALLISON GREENFIELD, posting a link to an old Instagram account she used and a photo of her with CHUCK SCHUMER (Trump baselessly described her as “Schumer’s girlfriend”).

“The judge said he had warned Trump Monday ‘off the record’ about making such comments, but that Trump had ignored him,” Erica Orden, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report from New York. “After Trump posted the material online Tuesday, Engoron ordered him to delete the post — and it quickly disappeared from Trump’s social media site, Truth Social.”

“‘Consider this statement a gag order forbidding all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any of my staff,’ Engoron said. ‘Failure to abide by this order will result in serious sanctions.’”

More top reads:

  • While some Trump opponents hope the civil fraud trial will expose the former president as a cheat and a fake, the details will make very little difference to his diehard supporters, Michael Kruse, our resident Trumpologist, writes for POLITICO Mag: “No matter what happens in the courtroom in Manhattan in the coming days, weeks and months, no matter what is revealed, no matter the evidence or even the outcome, say longtime Trump watchers, former Trump employees, Republican strategists and operatives and experts on political rhetoric and autocratic means, his supporters at this point don’t care who he was or was not.” 

2024 WATCH

WHAT THEY’RE READING IN IOWA — “After Donald Trump courts Iowa farmers, Ron DeSantis PAC unveils agriculture endorsements,” by Des Moines Register’s Katie Aki: [The] coalition includes former and current leaders of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Cattleman's Association, and the Soil and Water Conservations Districts of Iowa.”

TSK TSK — “Pence calls Trump’s attacks on Milley ‘utterly inexcusable’ at AP-Georgetown foreign policy forum,” by AP’s Meg Kinnard and Jill Colvin

PLAYING DEVIL’S ADVOCATE — “How Vivek Ramaswamy turned his elite education into a degree in devil's advocacy,” by NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald, Allan Smith, and Henry Gomez


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National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, on June 12, 2023. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

UKRAINE ON THE BRAIN — Despite ongoing opposition from Republicans on the Hill, President Biden reassured world leaders yesterday afternoon that Congress will approve aid to Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” Biden’s conference call with the leaders of European allies, Canada and Japan came after the president signed a temporary government funding bill on Saturday which excluded billions in aid for Kyiv that the White House previously requested.

A murky future: “[NSC spokesperson JOHN] KIRBY said the current tranche of congressionally-approved U.S. aid would be enough to help Ukraine for another ‘couple of weeks’ or a ‘couple of months,’ although the precise estimate would hinge on current battlefield conditions,” AP’s Seung Min Kim and Darlene Superville report.

More top reads: 

  • After HUNTER BIDEN pleaded not guilty yesterday to three federal gun charges, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Myah Ward are out with a look at how the younger Biden’s “second amendment defense” in the courtroom is in direct contrast with his father’s advocacy for stricter gun laws. 


SHE’S RUNNING — “Kari Lake formally files for Senate bid,” by Ally Mutnick: “[KARI] LAKE will enter the race as the heavy favorite to emerge from the GOP primary. But the general election is far less certain. Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-Ariz.) has hinted that she plans to run for reelection as an independent, while Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.) has been campaigning for the seat for months.”

BUCKEYE STATE UPDATE — “GOP candidate Matt Dolan raises $4M in third quarter Ohio Senate bid,” by Ally Mutnick: “Dolan, a wealthy state senator whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, self-funded $3 million of that total. He has $6.8 million in the bank. Dolan is in a heated three-way primary for the right to take on Sen. SHERROD BROWN, one of the most vulnerable incumbents up in 2024.”


THE TAXMAN COMETH — “Leonard Leo says he will not cooperate with D.C. Attorney General tax probe,” by Heidi Przybyla


DANCE OF THE SUPERPOWERS — “U.S. charges Chinese companies, executives with fentanyl crimes,” by WaPo’s Nick Miroff


COMING TO THE TABLE — “Drug Makers Agree to Negotiate With Medicare on Prices of 10 Medications,” by NYT’s Michael Shear: “The first negotiations will be over 10 drugs selected by the administration, including blood thinners Eliquis and Xarelto and the diabetes drugs Jardiance and Januvia. The lower prices for those drugs are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2026. Other drugs will be negotiated in the years that follow.”


DON’T PANIC — Today at 2:20 p.m. Eastern, the federal government will conduct a nationwide test of the emergency alert system, including sending a test message to smartphones. More from AP


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HOT JOB — Speaker of the House of Representatives, via Daybook.

OUT AND ABOUT — Semafor’s Business & Finance Editor, Liz Hoffman hosted the news organization’s inaugural business summit at Genesis House this last night in New York, including a reception featuring Korean-inspired cocktails and a menu crafted by Michelin-starred chefs. SPOTTED: Eric Adams, Emma Tucker, Mark Wiedman, Scott Rechler, Justin Smith, Ben Smith, Gary Cohn, Lynn Martin, Max Tani, Brian Stelter, Dan Colarusso, Jim Clifton, Rebecca Blu

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The House GOP’s fight may have just begun


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