White House maintains hands-off approach to House GOP chaos

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. Biden is heading to Philadelphia to make an official announcement during an economic-themed visit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh/AP

White House maintains hands-off approach to House GOP chaos

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The White House is distancing itself from the House Republican speakership standoff despite the Israel war underscoring the importance of having an operational Congress.

But aside from undermining the U.S. response to Hamas‘s terrorist attacks and Israel’s declaration of war, the standoff could undercut President Joe Biden as he tries to keep the government open past Nov. 17 and, after that, continue to help Ukraine.


The House Republican speakership standoff could bring Congress to a standstill next week when the Senate returns, according to Democratic strategist Mark Mellman.

“The government has stopped, I mean from legislating,” Mellman told the Washington Examiner. “Obviously, we have aid to Israel, aid to Ukraine, which are held up, but we also are careening towards a shutdown, and there may not even be time to prevent that shutdown if the Republicans don’t move much more expeditiously in solving their internal problems.”

The speakership standoff has already complicated the U.S. reaction to the Israel-Hamas conflict with confusion over whether Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) could participate in top intelligence briefings. McHenry did take part in a White House meeting Friday before Biden sends Congress a supplemental funding request regarding Israel next week.

But Kate deGruyter, senior director of communications for liberal think tank Third Way, downplayed the possibility of Biden stepping in and, for example, encouraging House Democrats to endorse a Republican speaker.

“Joe Biden has always been the adult in the room, but the benefit of a steady and experienced leader in the White House is being felt around the globe this week,” deGruyter said. “I see no upside for the White House to get in the middle of a deeply divided Republican conference.”

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), have made “clear overtures” that they are willing to collaborate, deGruyter added.

“It would only take five moderate Republicans to stand up to the extremes and produce a bipartisan coalition,” she said. “That could produce a much quicker result to restore order in the House and select a speaker who is capable of governing in a time of enormous consequence.”

For Claremont McKenna College politics professor and former Republican aide John Pitney, lawmakers may “resent outsiders meddling in their internal affairs.”

“Democrats support President Biden’s policies, but they might push back if he openly tried to tell them how to conduct their own business,” he said. “Any intervention would have to go through back channels.”

Republican strategist John Feehery agreed Biden “should stay out” of the speakership standoff.

“They have no percentage in getting involved in congressional dysfunction,” he said.

Regardless of who becomes speaker, House Republicans will likely experience political consequences, according to Mellman, the Democratic strategist. Republicans do have an average 1 percentage point edge in generic congressional polling, 44% to 43%, per RealClearPolitics.

“Republicans have created an indelible impression of incompetence with the American people in the course of this fiasco,” Mellman said. “When there’s a new speaker, that person will have an opportunity to potentially lead in a more positive direction. Almost anybody will look good compared to what they’re going through now, but changing that perception is going to take a lot of work and effort, and it’s going to take a lot of unity in a caucus that has shown nothing but great division.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated this week that the speakership standoff is House Republicans’s “process,” contending Biden “doesn’t have a vote.”

“What we’re seeing is certainly shambolic chaos,” the press secretary said. “They need to get their act together. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.”

“The president wants to continue to move forward on making sure that the business of the American people is done,” she added. “But this doesn’t stop the president [from] continuing to do the work.”

When asked whether there is a “role” for Biden, as the leader of the Democratic Party, to speed up that process, Jean-Pierre repeated, “It is not for us to fix.”


“We’ve never seen a conference behave this way or be this chaotic,” she said. “It is important for Republicans, who have the majority, to figure this out and get their — they created the situation, and they have to figure it out and elect their speaker so we can move on.”

House Republicans met for hours Friday after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) withdrew himself from speakership consideration because of a lack of support. A two-man race then emerged between House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), who mounted a last-minute campaign in the hope of coalescing anti-Jordan colleagues. Jordan won a secret conference ballot, but in a second vote, only 152 were committed to backing him on the House floor, well short of the required 217.

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