With House Speaker selection stalemated, Republicans in and out of Congress wonder what’s next

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Colorado Republican U.S. Rep.Lauren Boebert, center, listens while her colleague from Florida, Matt Gaetz speaks to reporters Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. House Republicans, who won a narrow majority in the November 2022 elections, are in a drawn-out fight over who will serve as House Speaker.

In Grand Junction, 67-year-old Robert Stepp is watching the disunity of Republicans in Washington, D.C. with some disbelief.

“You see ‘em not getting along, not agreeing on the same terms, on the same objects and everything and on the same outlook. They got to come together,” the life-long Republican said.

Stepp wants to see his representative, Republican Lauren Boebert, join the majority of her caucus and vote for GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to be the next Speaker.

Stina Sieg/CPR News

But that’s unlikely to happen.

“I want to see [McCarthy] withdraw from the race,” Boebert said Wednesday night.

For much of this week, the far-right congresswoman representing the Western Slope has been at the center of the historic bid to deny McCarthy the gavel.  

When she won reelection, Boebert promised to show “how to get real work done for the American people.” But in the first week of the 118th Congress, the Republican-controlled House has been frozen, prevented from actually starting work — from swearing in members to setting up committees — as the chamber struggles to pick a leader. More than 200 Republicans support McCarthy, but that isn’t enough to overcome the opposition of their 20 colleagues who are voting for a host of other nominees.

“I think the House Republicans who are resisting the election of Kevin McCarthy as speaker are making the Republicans overall look foolish, unorganized and rather impotent. And I don’t think it’s serving Republicans in Colorado very well either,” said Dick Wadhams, the former chair of the Colorado GOP and political consultant.

After an especially close reelection race, Boebert told voters in Colorado’s 3rd congressional district that she’d “be a good listener, to take a deep breath, and help take the temperature down in D.C.”

Asked recently about her promise, now that temperatures have risen in the Republican conference, Boebert said she believes she is living up to it, saying she’s calm and “very confident in what I’m doing.”

“I came here for fundamental change in Washington, D.C. and to get our country back on track, and that's exactly what I'm doing,” she explained. “There's nothing irrational (or) extreme. Our demands aren't extreme (or) unreasonable. I believe that the temperature is calm. We just need some other folks to get on board with us.”

But the stalemate is continuing for a fourth day, with no end in sight. McCarthy detractors have failed to get others to join their cause. And, thus far, McCarthy supporters have been unable to sway the approximately 20 holdouts.

Boebert first voted for Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, and at one point many of the other detractors did too. Jordan is backing McCarthy.

On Day 2, Boebert nominated Florida Rep. Byron Donalds at one of the votes. By Day 3, she nominated Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, who heads the Republican Study Committee. She gave the three men as examples of other consensus candidates.

“We need to get to a point where we start evaluating what life after Kevin McCarthy looks like,” Boebert said on the House floor Thursday. “We govern for the people on principle. Don't be afraid to do the right thing. I believe that Kevin Hern is a unifier.”

Hern has backed McCarthy and Boebert hasn’t convinced any others besides the other holdouts to join her in voting for him.

Before the start of the new Congress, Boebert had quietly been involved in negotiations between McCarthy and hardline members to get to an agreement that would win their votes, but that blew up Monday night.

It’s been a case of he said, she said ever since.

Boebert said they presented a deal that would get McCarthy to 218, a deal he rejected. McCarthy said the group came with personal asks, something Boebert denied. After that, Boebert said there was nothing McCarthy could do to get her vote.

“You cannot negotiate in a lack of trust. There is no trust,” Boebert said.

Still, all this flexing of the political muscle by the far right faction may win them concessions, but it is not necessarily winning them fans in the caucus.

“Some of [the 20] clearly don’t trust Kevin McCarthy,” said GOP Rep. Warren Davidson, a House Freedom Caucus member from Ohio who is backing McCarthy. “But the point I was trying to make to my friends and colleagues is, you know, at this point you're losing trust with some of the rest of our colleagues. And if we're going to use our majority to really be a majority, we have to hold everybody together.”

He notes that the holdouts keep talking about finding a consensus candidate, “but the overwhelming majority of the conference supports Kevin [McCarthy]… This is the consensus candidate.”

At this point, many of McCarthy’s supporters are also dug in and unwilling to consider another candidate.

Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska is one of those steadfast McCarthy supporters. He described the mood as “we’re not going to let a small group beat us around and kick us around.”

McCarthy, however, did cave on many of the hard right’s asks, including one thing Boebert said was a red line for her — changing the rules to allow one member to start proceedings to remove a Speaker.

At this point, Bacon thinks the only thing that might move the 20 McCarthy opponents will be criticism by the conservative media or hearing that message from their constituents.

Wadhams doesn’t expect Boebert to change her stance, regardless of what happens; “I think she’s carried it this far, there really wouldn’t be any reason to back off.”

All in all, Eastern Plains GOP Rep. Ken Buck said this prolonged display of disunity is bad for the holdouts and for McCarthy.

“I don’t think it looks good for anybody,” he said. “I think it is actually a process that is necessary more in the House, that we have debate and we have compromise and we have discussions on major issues. But it shouldn’t be the Speaker issue that we have this process with, but that’s where we are."

Buck missed a number of votes Thursday and Friday because he had to return to Colorado for a non-emergency medical procedure.

Back in Grand Junction, Republican voter Stepp takes a philosophical approach to his party’s divisions. “If [McCarthy’s] going to be Speaker of the House, certainly anybody can do better than [former House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi did,” he said with a chuckle.

 CPR’s Stina Sieg contributed reporting.