We asked Utah’s congressmen what’s next for a new Speaker of the House
Utah Republican Rep. Blake Moore is frustrated with a few members of his party for upending the productivity of the U.S. House.
“If I were to vote with eight Republicans and all Democrats, I would get excoriated in my district. But these people can do it because they can create this narrative that they're doing something super conservative. It's just a misnomer back there,” he said.
The historic ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy has left the House paralyzed during a time when Congress is up against a tight deadline. The last-minute stopgap deal to avoid a government shutdown that imperiled McCarthy’s speakership only moved the deadline to Nov. 17.
And now that there’s no elected speaker, Moore said the House lost two to three more weeks to pass the spending bills.
In a statement to KUER, Rep. Burgess Owens said the “disunity and internal strife” over the speakership has “diverted attention from the crucial legislative work that Congress must do under a limited timeframe.”
“We must get back to work, elect a new speaker, and finish the job Americans entrusted to our House Republican majority,” Owens said.
The House isn’t conducting any business, like debating bills, even though Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is speaker pro tempore.
“Because we've never had this before, it's unclear if this person [Rep. McHenry] has all the powers of the speaker,” said Jim Curry, a professor of Political Science at the University of Utah. “We don't know how this should be interpreted. There's no precedent.”
Rather, McHenry is using the position to elect a new speaker. Moore also said House members are unable to get any committee work done until McCarthy’s replacement is voted in.
If the House doesn’t elect a new speaker soon, it leaves the possibility that no spending bills are negotiated, debated or passed. As a result, the government could shut off the lights once the new deadline comes and goes. And that, Curry said, would have “wide-ranging consequences for a place like Utah.”
“It means all sorts of federal expenditures and federal programs that Utahns rely on disappear,” he said.
And while Utah has vowed to fork over the money to keep the state’s five national parks open in the case of a shutdown, it doesn’t come without a hefty price tag. When the government shut down in 2013, Gov. Spencer Cox said the state spent around $1 million to keep the parks open.
“It has these very specific Utah impacts where a big part of our economy is around tourism, around these national parks,” Curry said. “If you can't get to an agreement on spending, the state has to pay money to keep them open or else take a hit to their economy.”
No agreement will be made, though, if the divided Republican majority can’t come to a consensus on who the next speaker should be. It took 15 rounds of voting before McCarthy finally got the job. While the same scenario might not play out this time around, it’ll still be a narrow victory because the GOP has such a slim majority in the House and is down one Republican Utah vote since Rep. Chris Stewart's departure.
Utah’s delegation “are three of the 221 votes that are needed to put a speaker back in office. And every single one of those votes matters, which means every single one of them plays an important role in determining which among those two [Republicans Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana] or any other potential contenders for the speakership they want to support,” Curry said.
Moore would like to increase the number of lawmakers it would take to issue a motion to vacate to prevent another ousting of the next speaker.
Moore added the Utah delegation “has not coalesced around anybody yet” and will spend the weekend making a plan about how to move forward “so we can actually govern and get to work and be a team.”
But when the majority of the caucus agrees on a successor, Moore said the GOP will need to “show up on the floor, unified, and get back to work.”
“That's what the push from the Utah delegation will be.”
Rep. John Curtis did not return KUER’s interview request. Moore said the House is slated to vote on a speaker Wednesday.