Decisions about which House Republicans will chair several key committees are being delayed amid vocal opposition to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) bid for Speaker from a small number of hard-line GOP members.
The House Republican Conference Steering Committee, the body of around 30 GOP leaders that picks chairs and members for most committees in the chamber, met on Wednesday to ratify committee chairs for the 118th Congress in uncontested elections. But control of the gavels of the powerful House Ways and Means, Homeland Security, Budget, and Education and Labor committees — all of which have multiple candidates in the running — are still up in the air.
The timing of when those decisions will be made is unknown. It is possible, members on the steering committee say, that those chair slots will not be decided until after a Speaker is elected on the House floor on Jan. 3.
“The Speaker has four votes in the steering room, and kind of affects that vote. So, I can understand why the wait,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), a member of the steering committee, referring to the GOP leader’s outsized power on the panel.
“I don’t think we’ll populate committees until we get this figured out, which is why it’s dumb,” Armstrong said of the opposition to McCarthy.
Five hard-line conservative House Republicans have explicitly said or strongly indicated that they will oppose McCarthy for Speaker on the House floor, and several more have withheld support from McCarthy without expressly saying how they plan to vote. Their critiques range from his stance on rules changes that would empower individual members to his management of previous votes and the midterm elections.
The opposition has the potential to keep McCarthy, who won the Speakership nomination from House Republicans last month, from ultimately winning the position when the House votes for a Speaker on Jan. 3.
“It’s really totally up to the Leader, and he’ll do it when he thinks it’s the appropriate time,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another steering committee member who will be chair of the House Rules Committee. “I think the most important thing is that he become the next Speaker. And so if this is important to that, then that’s fine by me.”
“The only vote anybody cares about is January 3, and so it’ll all flow around that decision,” said another steering committee member supportive of McCarthy.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, is running as a protest challenger to McCarthy. But Biggs and other McCarthy opponents hope a consensus alternative to the GOP leader will emerge. The lack of a viable alternative is a major point in McCarthy’s favor, Republicans say.
House Republicans typically choose their ranking members or committee chairs weeks before the new Congress to allow time for the incoming leaders to hire staff and get organized.
The delays and uncertainty due to the opposition to McCarthy are causing frustration among House Republicans supportive of the GOP leader for Speaker.
“We’ve got two years in a term, which really means we have eight months,” Armstrong said, referring to the limited time for a new Congress to make a major impact with legislation and in other areas. “So you’re going to start six weeks behind? … By the time you do all this stuff, I mean, figure it out and hire staff and all that, this stuff snowballs.”
For the race to replace retiring Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) as the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, there is a three-way race between Reps. Adrian Smith (Neb.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.), and Jason Smith (Mo.), the current ranking member on the House Budget Committee.
Hoping to replace Smith on the Budget panel are Reps. Buddy Carter (Ga.) and Jodey Arrington (Texas).
On Wednesday, the Steering Committee granted Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.) a waiver to House GOP rules limiting chairmanship and ranking members to three terms, allowing her to seek another term as top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. But Rep. Tim Walberg (Mich.) is challenging her for the slot on the panel, Bloomberg reported.
Reps. Dan Crenshaw (Texas) and Mark Green (Tenn.) are running to chair the Homeland Security Committee.
“Things are looking good. I’ve just got to make my presentation, whenever that is. A lot of unknowns at the moment,” Crenshaw said.