A proposal that would temporarily raise the threshold to nominate a Republican Speaker to the number of votes needed to win on the House floor — a move meant to prevent internal disputes from playing out in the public eye — is expected to be the first order of business for Republicans on Wednesday.
If adopted, the closed-door GOP nomination process set to kick off Wednesday morning could drag on as the conference — which members say is closely divided between Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — tries to coalesce around a candidate.
While the idea has received broad support, it has also been met with some skepticism.
The draft proposal, led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), would require a nominee to receive 217 votes in the conference before heading to the House floor — a number that would be enough to win the majority of the full chamber.
Jordan has expressed support for the idea.
“I think we’ve got to get 217,” Jordan said after leaving a Tuesday candidate forum.
Others, however, think that members opposed to the will of the conference should be put on the record in public.
“The rule change is being sold as temporary. If it’s such an important and good rule change, that should be permanent, not temporary,” said Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), who is supporting Scalise for Speaker. “A rule change should not be used to allow a candidate who achieves fewer votes to bludgeon the conference to reject the vote of the majority of the majority.”
Normally, House Republicans nominate a Speaker with a simple majority, with knockout rounds if there are more than two contenders and no one gets a majority on the first ballot.
But after eight GOP members joined with Democrats to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week — and 20 of them forced a historic 15-ballot floor election in January — some Republicans do not want to take any chances. The temporary change, members hope, would avoid a repeat.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said that while he was “not thrilled with either candidate,” he was in support of raising the threshold.
“I think that if we’re going to have a mess, we should have it in private,” Buck said.
Roy’s draft proposal lays out a lengthy process to get to the 217-vote threshold.
First, it allows a candidate who receives the votes of a majority of the conference, but fewer than 217, to answer more questions from GOP members — and then moves to a secret ballot that asks members if they will commit to supporting that candidate on the floor of the House.
After two rounds of that, if the candidate does not get support from at least 185 members, the election will restart with all previously nominated candidates who have not withdrawn their names, plus allowing for new nominations.
But if at least 185 members — and fewer than 217 — support the candidate, the process goes to the next phase. Lawmakers will answer if they can commit to supporting the leading candidate in a manual roll call vote — ditching the secret ballot and revealing the holdouts to the conference.
If the candidate cannot get to 217 after two rounds of that, then the process is restarted.
Whether the rule change would need a simple majority support or more to be adopted Wednesday depends on some technicalities of how it is brought up in conference — but two Republicans told The Hill that they expect it would need just a simple majority to be adopted.
One member said that the rule change might have supermajority support in the conference; more than 100 House Republicans have signed on to a letter requesting a special conference meeting for the purpose of increasing the threshold, up from 94 members last week.
But some House Republicans are voicing skepticism of — or outright opposition to — the proposed threshold increase.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) — who is undecided on the change — argued that it could slow down the process of nominating a Speaker, because lawmakers would take more time coming to a consensus behind closed doors compared to bringing a candidate with support from at least half of the conference to the floor.
Arrington noted that while hashing out differences privately would avoid “messiness” and “drama” on the House floor, the pressure of constituents watching the proceedings could speed up the entire process.
Trying to come to a consensus “in the privacy of our conference is going to drag this out for a long time, in my opinion,” Arrington said.
House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said raising the threshold to 217 is a “well-intentioned” but “misdirected” idea because it would allow a small group of people to veto the conference’s choice for Speaker.
When pressed on the fact that a tiny faction is able to hold up the Speaker election under current rules — as happened in January — Cole pointed to the fact that letting the process play out on the House floor would at least mean the situation is playing out publicly rather than behind closed doors.
“It’s a lot different, because they can do it in a secret ballot,” Cole said, later adding that he wants to “go back to [the] traditional way of doing things.”