The chaotic, convoluted path House Republicans took to elect a speaker leads back to square one

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The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but in their effort to elect a House speaker, Republicans have taken a more tortured route.

Compared to a straight line, Republicans will follow the path of the ‘truncated icosidodecahedron rhombus,’ a monstrous, convex, polygonous shape.

At least the truncated icosidodecahedron rhombus is an actual thing.

The Rube Goldberg-esque approach by House Republicans to the speakership would probably confuse Archimedes, Pythagoras and Euclid.

I’ve always said that the essence of Congress is ‘the math.’ The math is rather simple. Republicans need an outright majority of the entire House — voting by name — to elect someone as speaker. But since they can’t balance the equation after nearly three weeks, the House has devolved into a state of unsolvable political algebra.

If nothing else, House Republicans have been consistent about one thing the past few weeks: Whatever the plan is, they will alter the strategy 180 degrees a few hours later.

Everyone has whiplash.

House Republicans tapped House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., as their speaker nominee a week ago Wednesday, but 30 hours later, he dropped out. 

Last Friday afternoon, Republicans then anointed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as their speaker nominee. But a week later, Republicans voted Jordan off the island after he lost three consecutive votes for speaker on the floor. Jordan hemorrhaged additional ballots each time.

But that doesn’t do justice to the frenzied planning that has become a touchstone of the manic process to tap a new speaker.

Jordan lost consecutive floor votes for speaker on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday morning, the tentative plan was for the House to meet at noon, potentially teeing up a vote for speaker around 1 p.m.

But House Republicans convened one of their labyrinthine ‘conference’ meetings for 11 a.m.

Just as the meeting started, word came that Jordan would not demand a roll call vote that day. Jordan was destined to lose that vote, the same as he had lost on the days before. One GOP source said that the strategy by Jordan’s opponents was ‘escalatory’ — a move to prompt more opponents to cast ballots against Jordan on each ballot.

Before the meeting, Jordan indicated that he would remain a candidate for speaker and remain the official GOP nominee for the job. But he endorsed a plan for the House to formally elect Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., as interim speaker pro tempore. McHenry simply assumed the role once the House bounced former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from the speakership earlier this month. McHenry is handcuffed in his powers as acting speaker pro tempore, but the House would formally empower McHenry if he were elected speaker pro tempore. That would allow the House to function again and vote on legislation. There is precedent for this. More on that in a moment.

But after four hours, Republicans emerged from the meeting, swerving suddenly toward a divergent plan. Republicans incinerated the idea to elect McHenry and get the House running again — even though Jordan supported it.

Wildly, the plan switched back to holding a floor vote for Jordan later that day, perhaps even in the middle of President Biden’s prime-time address about the Middle East.

Naturally, the vote never came. 

The House adjourned early Thursday evening without voting, but, true to form, a new plan emerged. The House would meet at 10 a.m. Friday with a third vote for speaker beginning around 11 a.m.

Holy trapezoid.

‘Additional votes are expected throughout the weekend,’ tweeted Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, a Jordan ally, at 7:23 p.m. Thursday.

But there was a problem with the idea of weekend votes for speaker.

‘Additonal votes’ would mean that Jordan still hadn’t wrapped up his bid for speaker on Friday. Lawmakers on both sides saw the possibility of an attendance problem over the weekend. They scheduled events in their districts. It was unclear how many would be willing to hang around Washington for another vote that was destined to fail.

However, weekend absences could actually help Jordan. If the right mixture of Members were absent, that could lower the threshold to elect a speaker. Depending on who were gone, there was a possibility that Jordan could actually WIN.

However, any benefit to Jordan would mean a nearly equal risk of losing the speaker’s gavel entirely.

If another blend of members were absent, it was possible that Republicans, if they weren’t careful, could elect House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., as speaker.

The magic number to prevail as speaker morphs with each roll call vote. It’s contingent on how many members are there and vote for a candidate by name. The speaker must win an outright majority of the ballots being cast.

That’s why the Jeffries scenario was in play.

As they say in the movies, ‘You play a dangerous game, Mr. Bond.’

But it never got to that point.

At 9:33 p.m. on Thursday, Jordan announced he would hold an 8 a.m. press conference Friday in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. It’s rare for any event on Capitol Hill to begin before 9 a.m, but it’s even stranger to announce an event of this magnitude so late the night before.

But Jordan strode in to the Rayburn Room a few moments after 8 a.m. Friday, jacketless, as is his custom.

‘Our plan this weekend is to get a speaker elected,’ said Jordan at 8:11 a.m.

During his remarks, Jordan spoke of how the Wright Brothers built a plane in 1903 that was ‘barely’ airborne.

‘Flew like 100 feet. Got a few feet off the ground,’ said Jordan.

He then added that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a jet in 1947.

‘In 44 years, we go from two guys flying 100 feet to another American breaking the sound barrier in a jet,’ said Jordan.

Jordan concluded his remarks at 8:12 a.m. He was back in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building by 8:21 a.m. The House began voting shortly after 11 a.m. By 11:26 a.m., the House was only through names beginning with letter ‘G.’ But it was clear Jordan had lost another vote for speaker. McHenry gaveled the vote closed at 12:06 p.m. By 1:56 p.m., House Republicans voted by secret ballot to move on from Jordan as their speaker nominee.

Jordan’s campaign for speaker probably traveled further politically than the 120 feet on the maiden voyage of the Wright Brothers’ flyer. However, the Wright Brothers kept at it that day in 1903, increasing their flight distance with each sortie. Their fourth flight was aloft for nearly a full minute and flew 852 feet. But unlike the Wright Brothers, Jordan kept losing ground on his subsequent roll call votes. At the rate Jordan was going, it may have taken him 44 years to become speaker — the same amount of time it took Chuck Yeager to break the sound barrier.

Some Republicans took umbrage at what they perceived as strong-arm tactics by Jordan and his allies. Some received death threats. Their family members encountered vulgar messages. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, called her warnings ‘credible’ and reported them to the U.S. Capitol Police. She described Jordan as a ‘bully.’

Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., said he planned to support Jordan on the second ballot, but he changed his mind after intimidation tactics ‘ramped up.’ He also characterized Jordan as a ‘bully.’

Jordan allies rode to his defense.

‘Jordan has never pressured anybody,’ said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., minimized security concerns.

‘All of us in Congress receive death threats. I don’t know if that’s a news flash for anybody here,’ said Perry. ‘It’s nothing new to a member of Congress. We all know it. That is another red herring.’

Never mind that former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., nearly died during a 2011 shooting that also injured future Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. And Scalise nearly perished during the GOP baseball practice shooting in 2017. 

A cavalcade of House Republicans entered the speaker sweepstakes Friday following Jordan’s defeat. The House aims to vote again on Tuesday. But it’s anyone’s guess whether the House can elect a speaker then or anytime soon.

One senior Republican source told Fox that it was likely the House had to go at least one more round with a bona fide candidate for speaker before it began to consider the scenario mentioned earlier about empowering McHenry.

The House has done so in the past. House Rule I, Clause 8 allows an elected speaker pro tempore to assume ‘virtually all the duties, authorities, and prerogatives of the Speaker of the House.’

One of the best examples came in 1961. Late House Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Tex., fell ill over the summer and went back to the Lone Star State to die. The House elected future House Speaker John McCormack, D-Mass., as speaker pro tempore in Rayburn’s absence. The House returned to legislative form, passing a foreign operations spending bill and legislation to create the Peace Corps. The latter was one of the hallmarks of President John F. Kennedy’s legislative agenda.

Rayburn passed away in the fall. The House later elected McCormack as the regular speaker.

It’s far from clear whether the House will ever follow this path to elect a speaker pro tempore if it can’t pick an actual speaker, but one thing is certain: The pathway over the next week remains circuitous. Ellipitical. Contorted. Malformed.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is rarely the case for anything in Congress, but the exercise of electing a speaker is certainly akin to a truncated scosidodecahedron rhombus.

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