Can Partisanship Save Republicans in Congress?

If not for the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the primary focus of the media would undoubtedly be the internal strife within the U.S. Republican Party in Congress. This division has emerged as conservative Republicans have successfully removed Speaker McCarthy and are now in pursuit of a more conservative candidate to replace him. While Israel prepares for a potential invasion of Gaza to address the threat posed by Hamas, the Republican leadership battle remains a prominent news story.

Reflecting on events from eight months ago, moderate Republicans were appealing to their conservative counterparts to rally behind a Californian Republican as a consensus choice for congressional leadership. During this period, much of the Republican caucus opposed the principled conservative members who were seeking concessions and commitments to restore regular legislative procedures. Eventually, these conservative Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, secured their concessions from McCarthy, leading to his election as Speaker of the House.

Regrettably, Speaker McCarthy was unable to fulfill enough of his promises to satisfy the conservative minority within the Republican Party. Consequently, he was removed from the speakership with the support of eight Republicans and unanimous consent from the Democrats. This situation has left the Republican Party in a position where they must select a new Speaker if they wish to continue leading the U.S. House of Representatives.

Initially, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise was nominated as the Republican candidate within the caucus. However, it soon became evident that Scalise would not garner enough Republican votes to secure the speakership in the full House vote. After Scalise withdrew from consideration, Rep. Jim Jordan, who had been the runner-up to Scalise, was nominated by the Republican caucus. Like his predecessors, Jordan faced the challenge of amassing 217 votes to achieve a majority in the House and become the next Speaker. The key difference is that Jordan is a staunch and proven conservative, and the rules regarding party unity appear to be less rigid than when moderates sought the same.

The selection of Jim Jordan as the Party’s nominee for Speaker has triggered a response from a group of moderate Republicans who declare they will not support him for the speakership. Rep. Mike Rodgers has gone so far as to state that there is nothing Jordan could do to earn his vote and has suggested the possibility of cooperating with Democrats if they make an offer.

In a similar vein, the Democrats associated with the self-styled Problem Solvers Caucus have presented a proposal to support a moderate Republican in exchange for increased power-sharing with the minority party. As of now, these efforts have not made significant progress, and moderate Republicans are even considering leaving the bipartisan caucus if these discussions persist.

This approach is reminiscent of how Texas Democrats have historically gained influence in the Texas House of Representatives. In 2009, 65 Democrats collaborated with 11 moderate Republicans to replace the conservative Republican Speaker with Rep. Joe Straus. This shift allowed Democrats to obtain important committee chairmanships and influence the fate of important Republican bills during floor votes, often leading to the demise of conservative legislation.

This tactic has been employed in subsequent years, with Texas Democrats successfully affecting the outcomes of Speaker elections. While Straus served three terms as Speaker before retiring, Dennis Bonnen stepped down after two terms amid a bribery scandal, and the current Speaker, Dade Phelan, faces calls for resignation due to his continued support for Democratic committee chairs and his forced impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Until Republicans nominate a speaker candidate who is unacceptable to the Democrats, the efficient passage of conservative legislation in the Texas House will continue to be an uphill climb.

Considering these developments, the author expresses gratitude for the partisan divisions present in the U.S. Congress. The Democrats could have opted to maintain McCarthy’s moderate leadership, which would have allowed for the continued progression of debt ceiling legislation or the reliance on continuing budget resolutions. The fact that the Democrats chose not to support a more moderate Speaker suggests their deep-seated animosity towards the Republican Party no matter the circumstances. The Republican base can only hope that this political strife persists. If a bipartisan “uni-party” emerges from the unity of moderates in both parties, conservative Republican positions would surely be eroded under such congressional leadership.

As Texas Republicans try to untangle the Democratic grip on the Republican majority Texas House, the Republicans in Congress need to continue to resist the siren calls of unity from the Democrats lest they find themselves faced with an angry Republican base in the next election.

Dale Huls is a candidate for State Representative in TX House District 1. Huls has been a statewide grassroots activist in Texas politics for over a decade. He has served as a precinct chair and election judge, advocating for conservative principles for 10 years in Harris County.

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Photo: WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Rep.-elect Matt Gaetz (R-FL) (R) talks to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his Deputy Chief of Staff John Leganski, in the House Chamber during the fourth day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives is meeting to vote for the next Speaker after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) failed to earn more than 218 votes on several ballots; the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)