The speaker of the House has yet to be chosen after three days and 11 rounds of voting.
So, how long can this go on?
“That’s a great question, and I think one that many in Washington, D.C., are contemplating—us, people on the Hill, staff members of members themselves. But the short answer is it can go on for as long as it takes,” Ryan Walker, vice president of government relations for Heritage Action, the grassroots arm of The Heritage Foundation, says.
“Now, we don’t have much history or immediate history with this process because the last time that this happened was nearly 100 years ago, so it’s relatively new, but I think this is how the system was designed,” Walker says.
Walker joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to further discuss the speaker of the House race, his thoughts on Rep. Matt Gaetz voting for former President Donald Trump in the seventh round of voting on Thursday, and whether or not you have to be a member of Congress to run for the speaker position.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Ryan Walker, the vice president of government relations for Heritage Action, is joining the podcast today. Ryan, thanks so much for joining us.
Ryan Walker: Thanks for having me.
Aschieris: Now, you were on the podcast earlier this week and there has still not been a new speaker named, despite numerous rounds of voting. None of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s opponents seem to be budging in their stance against a speaker bid. So how long can this go on?
Walker: That’s a great question, and I think one that many in Washington, D.C., are contemplating—us, people on the Hill, staff members of members themselves. But the short answer is it can go on for as long as it takes.
Now, we don’t have much history or immediate history with this process because the last time that this happened was nearly 100 years ago, so it’s relatively new, but I think this is how the system was designed. It’s a healthy process, and we get to see these debates in public, something that we missed for a number of years. We get to hear what members’ perspectives are, either through the press or on the actual floor of the House of Representatives. We get to see them negotiating with each other. It’s an exciting process. But it could go on for some time now.
Aschieris: Yes, and as I mentioned, we still don’t have a speaker. Of course, we’ll keep everyone updated if they do decide and they do elect a speaker. One thing I also wanted to get your thoughts on is we’ve had 20 people, 20 members of Congress come out and vote for people other than McCarthy himself. What do some of these opponents want?
Walker: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, there are 20 members in total, it grew to 21 over the past couple of days. There are different asks from a number of those members.
Some members are firmly opposed to Kevin McCarthy becoming the speaker and they have expressed that they won’t vote for him under any circumstance. So for some of them, I don’t know that we have a number that we can point to on how many there are, but there have been at least four, maybe five, that have come out and made public comments in that way.
There are others in that 20 group that would like to get changes to the rules package, which governs how the House operates and how legislation is considered and how members, rank-and-file members, backbench members have an input in the process, so changes to those structures.
And then there’s also an ask around committee seats. So the work of Congress is often done through the committee process. Bills are introduced, amended, and what’s called marked up in committee. That’s a small subset of members that their top job in Congress is to pay attention and legislate on those issues that are of jurisdiction in those committees.
So, they’ve asked for spots on those committees so that conservatives for the first time in a while, number of years, would have true and substantial impact and influence in the legislation that’s considered in those committees.
Most importantly, I think, namely, actually, the Rules Committee is a big ask. Conservative members have asked for three seats for conservative members on the Rules Committee that would give them the ability to weigh in on how legislation can be amended on the floor, actually what legislation goes to the floor and the structure of debate for those bills. Traditionally, the Rules Committee is a speaker-appointed committee, but they’re asking for those seats.
Aschieris: As of now, do you know if McCarthy is open or if he’s against any of these requests or demands that we’ve been hearing?
Walker: Yeah, another good question. He’s certainly open. So there’s been a number of conversations that have happened since—this has gone back months but it’s really hit a fever pitch here as they’ve come to the floor and they’re actually voting. It has forced a lot of these members to hurry up these conversations.
There have been a number of meetings where McCarthy has acquiesced to the requests on motions to vacate the chair, which is a major aspect of some of these members’ asks to get to a yes in support of Kevin McCarthy to be speaker.
There are things like allowing legislation or requiring legislation to be posted for 72 hours prior to a vote. There are things like what legislation will be considered in the first 100 days that McCarthy is and has been willing to consider.
From what has been reported and our conversations with folks on the Hill, it seems that he has given in to a number of those asks and given the conservatives what they’re asking for. I think the questions that remain are committee slots, particularly on the Rules Committee, and some smaller ancillary issues.
Aschieris: Now, I also wanted to move to something else that happened on Wednesday. Rep. Victoria Spartz voted present. What’s the meaning behind that?
Walker: Great question again. So, Victoria Spartz, I think a lot of people were asking the same question yesterday when it happened, when they saw the present vote come up. I think that, again, based on what she has said publicly and what we’ve heard from other members, is it’s frustration. Frustration in a number of ways.
Frustration in, what is the ultimate conclusion here? How do we hurry up the process or facilitate these conversations to occur on a quicker basis and try to come to the end goal? What are we asking for and how do we get there? I think that she voted present to show that frustration.
Now, there are some who believe that, well, not believe but understand that for every present vote that is tallied, the actual threshold to reach a majority is reduced. So instead of requiring 218 because Victoria Spartz voted present, it only required 217 to become speaker. So, there are a lot of dynamics that can come out of that math and equations there. But ultimately, I think it was out of frustration.
Aschieris: I also wanted to ask just along the same lines related to this present vote, is there any truth to the idea that, and it sounds like that if enough Republicans voted present, then Democrat Hakeem Jeffries would win the speakership?
Walker: Yeah, I don’t know that that is a political reality for Democrat members. There’s been a lot of discussion from the news media, the mainstream media, and folks on places like Twitter to suggest that Democrats would either vote present or Republicans might vote present or Republicans might work with Democrats to come up with a consensus candidate.
But listen, in the House it’s a two-year cycle. Campaigning starts very close to the day after you’re elected, so they will be in primary season in a matter of 18 months. That is an untenable position, I would say, for 99% of the members of Congress in that they would have to respond and answer questions to their constituencies, their bases more importantly, in the primary about why they did that and what their reasoning was. I don’t know that you get that venue in a primary season, you get sound bites and talking points, not much more.
Aschieris: Now, Rep. Matt Gaetz has been a very vocal opponent of McCarthy, and during the seventh round of voting, he actually voted for former President Donald Trump. What are your thoughts on this?
Walker: Yeah, so, Congressman Gaetz has come out and publicly expressed that he won’t vote for Kevin McCarthy under any circumstance. That was something that he expressed to the media yesterday in an interview after a meeting with Kevin McCarthy. So these votes, I think, should be considered as protest votes.
On Tuesday, they nominated Andy Biggs, followed by Jim Jordan, followed by Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz has voted for Donald Trump. Those are votes that almost the person who they are voting for is irrelevant. It is someone other than McCarthy, though, that’s the important takeaway from that process.
Aschieris: I spoke with Rep. Bob Good on Thursday, and he told me that there are a couple of things going on right now. On the one hand, you’ve got a number of members who have been contemplating whether they’re going to go ahead and come out and vote against Kevin McCarthy because they don’t support him, and also that there are other members who are just becoming fatigued with the process. They know that McCarthy doesn’t have the votes, they know that McCarthy’s not going to be speaker. What are your thoughts on the congressman’s comments?
Walker: Yeah. Listen, these conversations, it’s been going on since Tuesday and these are a lot of personal one-on-one relationship-based conversations. This is a friendship that was sparked five years ago between two members, now become suddenly hugely impactful for the makeup of the House and who will ultimately be speaker.
What I would say is there certainly is that frustration that Congressman Good has articulated. There is definitely a fatigue that will only grow as the days go on. What I will say, though, is that the Republican Conference as a whole, and I think that you’ve seen this in nominating speeches every day since the beginning of the week, for folks that have nominated Kevin McCarthy and Chip Roy and others, they have talked about this notion that the Republican Party will be a better party coming out of the conference, will be a better conference coming out of these debates and negotiations than they were previously. And I couldn’t agree more.
The structure of the federal government is designed to allow for this type of debate. It is a member’s right to stand up and object and have their voice heard, their constituency’s voice heard, those 750,000 people that they represent in their home state and district. They have that right and they should be able to exercise it.
And for decades the process has been broken. It has been expanded and it has only gotten worse in the past 10 years, particularly under the [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi leadership years.
But the institution as a whole, Congress, is fundamentally broken in a number of ways—the way that legislation is considered, the way or lack of ability to amend that legislation on the floor. Which is, as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, that’s where 95% of the members have the opportunity to weigh in on their thoughts on that legislation. Otherwise, they take an up-or-down vote and they get to issue a press release to whoever reads it, and they can express their opinion that way. But they only get an up-or-down vote, it’s a yes or no. They’re not allowed to give nuance or make new suggestions, they can only take yes or no.
So a member’s ability to amend bills to change what’s coming to the House floor, to have an impact and voice heard at the leadership table, to have a seat at the table in committees, to understand what the oversight plan is and what subpoenas are going to be issued, all of those decisions are hugely important, impactful, and will determine the future of this country and the republic.
So the work that’s being done by these members should not be lambasted as chaos or dilatory or nefarious in any way. What they are after, many of them are after institutional changes that are necessary to make sure that the American people’s voice is heard. And so to that degree, we should commend these members, those of the 20 who are standing up and calling for these changes. Because without them, we would be in the same place as we’ve been for, as I said again, decades.
Aschieris: Just one final question for you. So far McCarthy has been the lead vote-getter for the Republicans. Obviously, we’ve seen Donalds get votes, we’ve seen Jim Jordan, we’ve seen Jim Banks, even former Rep. Lee Zeldin got a vote on Tuesday. Do you think that McCarthy will be able to flip any votes? Do you think they’ll find a replacement? Another question, is it true that you don’t have to be a member of Congress to run for the speakership?
Walker: Yeah. So, to answer your first question, where does it go from here essentially, I think for another speaker candidate to emerge, it would mean that Kevin McCarthy would need to step aside.
There are a good number of members who are dedicated Kevin McCarthy voters and will continue to vote that way for a period of time. How long? I don’t know that we know those answers. But in order for someone to get a substantial enough vote to show that there’s momentum toward another candidate, I do think that Kevin McCarthy would have to step aside.
Now, also, as we’re going through this, I don’t want to discount the fact that there is a deal that can be reached. There have been negotiations, especially over the last 18 hours, that have led to a number of changes, a number of discussions amongst members and outside organizations on support for Kevin McCarthy. So I would just say, as of recording this podcast, that those discussions are ongoing and there is still a very real possibility that Congressman McCarthy could get to a deal with those members.
Now, how many of the 20 would flip to become a yes vote or some degree of that? I don’t have the answer for that. But there is a deal that could be at hand.
To your other question on whether candidates need to be members of the House of Representatives, no, they don’t. It is a vague question in the Constitution though, and I think that there would be a number of procedural complaints or questions around how that functions to adhere to the Constitution, should it be an outside member. But I do want to clarify or caveat that with, I think that there is a snowball’s chance in a very hot place that an outside member would become speaker of the House.
Aschieris: Well, Ryan Walker, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. I guess as long as we see this continue, we’d love to have you back on to discuss. Thank you so much for joining us.
Walker: Happy to be here. Thank you.