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Where Do Republicans Go From Here?

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If and when our current whirlwind of congressional dust finally settles, California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s tenure as the 55th speaker of the House of Representatives will likely be remembered as a historic one — for all the wrong reasons. From his ignominious struggle to grasp the speaker’s gavel to his even more humiliating ouster from that role which he’d coveted for years, McCarthy’s brief turn at the reins of the House GOP caucus may ultimately prove most notable for an era of subsequent Republican disarray that seems inevitable following his untimely deposition. With a barely-there majority and, for the time being, no clear leadership to guide them, House Republicans must now grapple with an intra-party schism that has thrown them — and Congress as a whole — into entirely uncharted waters. 

McCarthy himself has declared he has no interest in running once more for the speakership, and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, the hard-right architect and instigator of this week’s historic motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, faces the prospect of serious blowback from his machinations. As the GOP heads into presidential primary season, which in many ways mirrors the same ideological rift that led it to this point, how will it overcome the fractious and rancorous divisions that have increasingly come to define the party at large? As they air their political dirty laundry for the public to see, where do Republicans go from here? 

The most immediate concern for Republicans and Congress at large is that absent a speaker, “business in the House will come to a standstill,” NPR reported. While McCarthy had named Rep. Patrick McHenry, a relatively low-profile North Carolina Republican, to serve as interim speaker in his absence, the “size and scope of McHenry’s authority” remains to be seen. For now, McHenry’s main task according to Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) is to “get us a new speaker.” It’s a process that could take at least a week, lawmakers admitted to Reuters, which will in turn “eat into the time necessary” for Congress to act ahead of the Nov. 17 deadline to avert a government shutdown. 

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Timing is crucial here, longtime Republican strategist Ron Bonjean agreed on X, formerly known as Twitter. The GOP must “select a candidate for speaker within 72 hours and then have a House floor vote this weekend” in order to “stop the bleeding immediately.” But while there are “plenty of Republicans” who could wield the gavel, Bonjean, who previously served as communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, told “All Things Considered,” McCarthy’s ousting “would give many people pause in terms of whether or not they would actually want to do this job, because it’s virtually untenable” without procedural changes to prevent a similar coup. As things stand now “it is not clear who, if anyone,” among Republican lawmakers has the support to win the position to begin with, The New York Times reported.

For the time being, the GOP seems either unwilling or unable to “heal its bitter divisions and coalesce around a new speaker,” according to Politico. The broader question is whether a “profoundly fractured conference can muster enough unity” so that whoever ends up filling that role has “any kind of a durable working majority.” The “real danger” for Republicans, agreed The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, is the creation of “uncertainty lingering into the election year and more permanently defining the GOP.”

What next? Although there is no clear heir apparent for McCarthy’s vacated speaker’s seat, McHenry, as well as Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.) and Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.), are “being mentioned as replacements,” according to Reuters, which cautioned that “none have said if they are interested, and other names could emerge in the week ahead.”

Despite his already busy schedule of presidential campaigning and looming court appearances, former President Donald Trump “might be open to helping the Republican Party” as speaker “at least in the short term,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said Tuesday, citing “some House Republicans [who] have been in contact with and have started an effort to draft former president.” On X, Texas Rep. Troy Nehls claimed to have spoken with multiple Republican lawmakers who “support” his plan to nominate Trump as speaker.

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