With the 2024 elections inching closer, disagreement within the House Republican conference on a speaker threatens to put several members representing swing districts at risk, further endangering their already slim majority over Democrats.
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was historically ousted from his post earlier this month as eight Republican detractors voted with House Democrats in favor of a motion to vacate. Now, Republicans are struggling to put forward a speaker nominee who can gain enough support from the conference to get elected.
And as internal frustrations heat up among Republicans, House Democrats have presented a united front, prepared to put all their votes behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
“I think it will definitely hurt the Republican Party in general and specifically the swing districts because it shows government’s not working and it’s the Republicans’ fault,” GOP strategist Susan Del Percio said.
According to fellow Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, “The fact that the House floor has been shut down for two weeks without progress on selecting a new speaker does not help Republicans keep the majority.”
“They need to solve this national crisis as quickly as possible and start putting points on the board again for the American people in order to prove they deserve to control the House,” he advised.
After winning a closed-door ballot among Republican conference members earlier this week, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) dropped out of the speaker race Thursday. The Louisiana Republican had failed to make the necessary inroads to reach 217 votes and began bleeding support.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) next won the Republican conference’s nod on Friday. But he appears to be well short of 217 himself, and the House adjourned for the weekend, with a vote expected Monday evening.
The public conference turmoil, which has included Republicans airing grievances about colleagues on national television, isn’t reflecting well on them, according to both Republican and Democratic strategists.
“The split screen is certainly Republicans failing to do even the most basic elements of organizing the government while Democrats are in the House united behind Hakeem Jeffries to be speaker,” said Democratic adviser Rich Luchette.
And, when it comes to Republicans in more centrist or swing districts, who are already working to distance themselves from more extreme members of their party, being complicit in the speaker dysfunction may not bode well. “You have Republicans unable even to elect a speaker in the House,” Luchette said. “It really is a clear choice that voters will be presented with in a little over a year. And that choice is between the democratic vision of government versus the chaos and confusion that exists in the Republican ranks in the house.”
For Republican adviser John Feehery, the drawn-out speaker race is not simply harmful to incumbent Republicans but all incumbents. “Congressional dysfunction hurts all incumbents if it proves to be drag on the economy,” he said.
The Republicans’ nomination and election of a speaker is particularly urgent as Congress barely averted a government shutdown last month, passing a 45-day continuing resolution at the proverbial last minute. Appropriations bills still need to be passed, and there are significant disagreements within the GOP conference, while time to pass the necessary measures is dwindling. Further, the war in Israel, prompted by a terrorist attack on the country carried out by Iran-backed Hamas, requires an urgent aid package from the United States. The longer without a speaker, the longer Congress goes without being able to assist its ally.
“The chaos is not an electoral slam dunk for Democrats,” Welcome PAC co-founder Liam Kerr said.
However, “It is good that Democrats are unified and pragmatic.”
“They also need to be welcoming,” Kerr said. “They also need to be reaching out and bringing people in and making it clear that the far left caricature of some in the party does not distort the voters’ in the middle perception of the party overall.”
According to Del Percio, Republicans are projecting an apparent inability to govern. If this is the case, “Why should people vote for them?” she asked.
“Republicans can very easily lose their majority in 2024,” she added.
As for House Democrats, the situation has provided “them a better governance message overall. Like, ‘We were the ones who can govern.'”
Kerr noted that this speaker saga could additionally show cracks in the Republicans’ majority that were previously unseen. “The electorate is far more volatile than people think. There are more swing voters, and more districts could be in play than currently are,” he claimed.
For him, running a PAC pushing Republicans and independents to vote for centrist Democratic candidates, “it gives us a tactical opportunity to engage pragmatic Republicans and say, ‘We know you don’t want this, and there’s actually something you can do about it.'”
This type of gridlock puts the group in a position to encourage “pragmatic Republican voters to split their tickets.”
Not everyone is entirely convinced that the congressional drama during an off year will have a strong bearing on the 2024 elections, which are over a year away, however.
“I think Republicans still have time to right the ship, but they can’t keep up this chaos forever,” Feehery said.
Bonjean agreed, noting that “Americans have short attention spans over news coverage.” But, he added, “the longer the House remains closed for business, the higher the chance that voters will remember come Election Day.”
Luchette shared the sentiment that Washington drama is not the sole concern of voters, though, he pointed out, “to the extent that they care about the palace intrigue in Washington, they really care about ethics and good government and making sure that the people they send there are doing the job that they hired them to do.”
There are 34 Republican-held seats considered competitive races by the Cook Political Report. Additionally, there are 43 such races in districts represented by Democrats. However, two of the Republican seats are considered likely to be taken by Democrats already.
As the speaker drama plays out, the National Republican Congressional Committee is keeping a low profile. But the committee is banking on voters’ short attention span to work to its benefit. Further, the entity is betting on the economy, which voters have consistently said is the most important issue going into 2024. Voters have also indicated a belief that Republicans are better equipped to handle the issue.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the other hand, has been given a boost of confidence by the fiasco. For the committee, they think the intraparty feuds on display between Republicans show that Democrats are the responsible ones and the ones capable of governing effectively.