As Republicans scramble to seat a Speaker, Democratic leaders are urging their rank-and-file members to remain in Washington for the duration of the process — a strategy that will make it tougher for GOP leaders to resolve their historic dilemma to get the House up and running.
Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), the incoming Democratic whip, said Thursday morning that she’s calling on members of the caucus to forego any personal plans to ensure that all 212 Democrats are in their seats and voting on the chamber floor, for as long as the process goes on.
“And this is not a hard sell, because they understand what’s at stake,” Clark told reporters in the Capitol.
“This isn’t about events and celebrations that they have planned, which of course, you know, we would love to be able to do,” she continued. “But this is about the dangerous moment that we are in. And it is about the chaos that the Republicans are creating.
“So we have to be here to make sure that we are doing everything possible to end this crisis to get a functioning House of Representatives, and to get to work for the American people.”
The comments arrive on the third day of the new Republican majority, which has been mired in the GOP’s unsuccessful effort to fill the Speaker’s seat vacated by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is seeking the spot, and has the overwhelming support of his conference. But a small group of roughly 20 conservatives has blocked his path over the course of six separate votes conducted over the last 48 hours.
That number is far above the four GOP defections McCarthy can afford to lose, given the narrow Republican majority in the lower chamber. And while McCarthy’s concessions to the holdouts have signaled some progress over the last day, he appears to be a long way from flipping 16 of those 20 defectors in his favor.
McCarthy’s math problem makes the Democrats’ strategy of urging members to remain in town that much more significant, because absences will lower the threshold he needs to seize the gavel.
To win the Speaker’s race, a lawmaker needs the support from a simple majority of the lawmakers who are in the chamber and vote for a specific person.
If all 434 House members meet those criteria, it requires 218 votes to win the gavel. But if there are a number of absences — or if lawmakers of either party decide to vote “present” — it lowers the threshold, which could allow McCarthy, or some other Republican, to lose more than four GOP votes and still win the gavel.
In the first six ballots, all 212 Democrats voted for their party leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). And if that number stays consistent, it puts all the pressure on McCarthy to nibble away at those 20 detractors within his own party.
Democratic leaders are insistent that they’re not going anywhere.
“I cannot … overstate how united our caucus is,” Clark said.