The removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives on Tuesday was historic, but now it’s time to talk about the future, one knowledgeable Capitol Hill watcher says.
“We are at a critical juncture in this country,” says Ryan Walker, executive vice president of Heritage Action for America, an independent, nonprofit organization affiliated with The Heritage Foundation, which is the parent organization of The Daily Signal.
“If we don’t solve the spending problem,” Walker says, “we won’t have a country to issue treasury bonds for in the future.”
The Heritage Action leader says the job of the next speaker of the House is to rein in out-of-control government spending and “talk through this with the Senate and, more importantly, with the American people.”
Walker joins this episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about the official candidates for House speaker and how long the process of electing a new speaker may take.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: Heritage Action for America’s executive vice president, Ryan Walker, is with us. Thank you so much, Ryan, for being here.
Ryan Walker: Thank you for having me.
Allen: Let’s start at the beginning and talk about how exactly this all happened. Why did Rep. Matt Gaetz bring a motion to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the first place?
Walker: It’s a good question. According to Congressman Gaetz, if you listen to his speech on the floor yesterday, or his public pronouncements, interviews with the reporters, his perception is that Speaker McCarthy did not live up to the promises that he made in January when he secured votes to become speaker.
During those weeks, early weeks in January, Speaker McCarthy went around to the Republican Conference and made a number of promises on the structure of the House, how it would run, what pieces of legislation would be considered, etc. There was a long list of promises made, and according to Congressman Gaetz, some of those promises were broken.
And most of the eight who voted to vacate Speaker McCarthy agree with that sentiment. A number of them issued statements following the vote or immediately prior to the vote, letting the American people know where they stood, and that Speaker McCarthy simply had not fulfilled those promises. And most importantly, his promise to consider all 12 appropriation bills in regular order and to have a fight with the Senate over future spending levels.
Allen: What have we heard from McCarthy since he was removed, since that vote on Tuesday night?
Walker: Speaker McCarthy, immediately after the vote, the Republicans held a conference meeting where Speaker McCarthy went in and said that he would not put himself up for the speakership again, that the will of the conference had been articulated and that he would not go down that pathway again.
He also held a press conference where he sort of went into and discussed a number of concerns that he has with members, personal animosities and otherwise, to really lay out his opinion of where these members were and why they took the positions that they took.
But I think the most important action that he took immediately following that vote was to say that he would not offer himself up or nominate himself or have someone nominate him to be speaker again.
Allen: So then with McCarthy saying that he’s not running again, what happens next? What do we know right now?
Walker: Another great question. As you can imagine, there is a scramble amongst the conservative conference in the House of the Republican Conference to decide and find someone who can lead us conservatives as we go through the rest of this year and into next year.
There are and will be a number of individuals. There have been some that have already said publicly that they’re interested in running for speaker and there may be more, but that’s where we are now. We have a few that have said that they’re interested in the position and it will be a conversation among members for the next week or so.
Allen: As of Wednesday afternoon when we’re having this conversation, who are the folks on the list who so far have said, “Hey, I would like to run for speaker,” and who are the people that everyone is eyeing, thinking, “Oh, they might be interested in doing this”?
Walker: There are two people who have declared themselves eligible or interested in the position. The first is Mr. [Steve] Scalise, Congressman Scalise from Louisiana. He is the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. He holds the majority leader position and has been in the House for a number of years now. He has run organizations like the Republican Study Committee, and now he is again in the No. 2 position in the House. So, he has announced that he is running for that position and has support from a number of members who have already publicly come out in favor of his speakership race.
And then you have Jim Jordan from Ohio, who is currently chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who is entertaining the idea of a speaker run. And he also has a number of folks who have come out and publicly supported his run for the speakership.
Now there are also, as you alluded to, a number of individuals who I would say are considering the position. There is Kevin Hern from Oklahoma who is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of Republicans in the House. And there is rumor or discussion around potential others. Someone like a Tom Emmer or someone like an Elise Stefanik or others who, depending on how members react to those first two individuals being named, they may make some decisions to put their hat in the ring.
Allen: And all of those folks have something in common, which is that they’re all already serving in some capacity in GOP leadership in the House. Correct?
Walker: That’s right. Yeah. Even Kevin Hern, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, although not a leadership position, it is certainly a prominent position within the conference. I mean, he does lead a huge number of conservatives in the House.
Allen: What are we looking at timeline wise here?
Walker: Next Tuesday, the House Republicans will convene a meeting where they will have a candidate forum. So, anybody who has been nominated or has offered to put their hat in the ring will give a presentation. They will talk directly to those members who will end up voting for or against them, make their pitch. And then the next day, Wednesday, is when we expect for a vote to occur on the House floor.
Allen: Ryan, has anything like this ever happened before? How historic are the events we’re seeing take place this week?
Walker: Very historic. The actual motion to vacate—there are two things here. There is the motion to vacate, which is what occurred this week. It’s a resolution that comes up and you vote on that resolution to vacate the chair. That has not happened since 1910.
However, under Speaker [John] Boehner, there was an effort to remove him and offer a motion to vacate. Congressman Mark Meadows, congressman from North Carolina, was instrumental in this process during the Boehner years. He offered a resolution that was nonprivileged, which is different from what happened this week. A nonprivileged resolution that ultimately led Speaker Boehner to decide to resign.
So, the actual vote on vacating the chair did not happen under Boehner. What happened this week is the first time it has happened since 1910. I think based on what we saw, I don’t know that it was anticipated until very early on in the day of when that vote occurred that McCarthy would lose the position. I think that Speaker McCarthy and his allies in the House believed that they could hang on to it. And that, as we know, did not come to fruition.
It is very historic and we have not seen this particular set of circumstances play out, although I would argue that under the Boehner years, a very similar process took place and we saw him step down.
If you remember and think back to that time, there was another scramble in those days to find who would step up and offer their name to be speaker. And that ended up being Speaker Paul Ryan. I think we all know how that ended, but that was the cadence. This is unprecedented territory, especially for the members in the House. Obviously, none of them were around in 1910, so this is all very new for them.
Allen: Ryan, if you would, take us back to civics class for a second and remind us how important the role of speaker is. What are their responsibilities within the House?
Walker: They’re immense. The House of Representatives is a majority-controlled body and the majority controls and dictates everything. Everything from office space to committee structure, staff arrangements on committee, positions in key committees of jurisdiction. The speakership and the leadership team by extension control and dictate all of that. And so it’s a vital role.
Not only that, in terms of functionality of the House of Representatives, they certainly have an impact or that office has an impact and dictates how everything runs. But they’re also, when you are in control of only one chamber, like Republicans are in the House of Representatives, you are effectively the leader of the party. We don’t have a president, a Republican president, and we certainly don’t have a Republican majority in the Senate. So, by default, you become the party’s leader.
So taking up the mantle of fighting for reduced spending, securing our border, ending the woke and weaponized government through the [Justice Department] and other agencies and conducting oversight, that is all critical that the speaker take up those fights, defend the conservative position, and push back against Senate Democrats in the Left who want to implement their agenda and are very dedicated to that cause.
And so you need someone who’s willing to fight and define those positions very clearly for the American people, use their bully pulpit that they have, their venue that they have. Their ability to get on national media to articulate those messages to the American people—so it’s a vital, vital role.
Allen: In this interim while, obviously, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been ousted, we’re waiting to learn who the new speaker will be to see that vote. Who is acting in capacity as House speaker right now?
Walker: This is a fantastic question and one that I actually had to learn. Believe it or not, I had not studied the rules around motions to vacate as it had not happened since 1910.
What happens in this scenario, once a speaker is vacated or the office or the chair is vacated, they have a list of individuals that the speaker puts forward in January to fill the role of speaker in the interim period. The title for that is called speaker pro tem. And again, Speaker McCarthy submitted to the House Parliamentarian and the clerk system and all the apparatus of the House a list of individuals who would manage the House in the interim. And we learned yesterday that that individual is Congressman Patrick McHenry from North Carolina.
And so while we go about this process of determining who the conference can support to become speaker, Congressman McHenry will have the gavel and there are open debates around his power and what he can or cannot bring to the floor for a vote. There are lots of questions around that right now. I think a lot of people are trying to figure that out, but he is in the role and he can convene the House for things like a speakership vote next week.
Allen: Now, so many of us were expecting here in Washington, D.C., that a lot of the fall would be really focused on spending and spending debates specifically in the House, but both in House and Senate. And now that’s been put on hold because of the speakership battle. How could this speaker race affect that ongoing debate on spending?
Right now, the government is funded until Nov. 17, but no agreements that we’re aware of have been reached related to moving forward on actually passing spending bills for the new fiscal year. So, what are we looking at as we look ahead this fall?
Walker: Yes, it is on pause. We as Heritage Action believe that it’s critical that the House move forward with consideration of the remainder of the appropriation bills they haven’t passed through the chamber. That obviously will be determined by how long it takes to find someone to step into the speaker role. But we do believe that as soon as that happens—and it could very well be next week, it could be on Wednesday that the conference coalesces behind someone and understands the gravity and importance of the timeline that we’re in. But roughly by then we would have 30 days and some change—38 days, 37 days—to find that solution.
So it will be critical and one of the first priorities of this new speaker to finish that work, buy consensus and buy-in from the rest of the conference to get those bills across the finish line. Because ultimately, what we’re trying to do is put forward a negotiating position with the Senate. And the Senate is not in line with where House Republicans are. The Senate, in fact, wants to spend more than they did this year. And House Republicans are looking to cut and spend less than we did this year. And so there’s a big debate around that.
And if the House is successful in passing their bills, there’s tremendous negotiating power in having that position. If you look to the Senate and their actions on appropriation bills, they have not passed a single one. And so having a negotiating position going in saying, “We have 218 that support this. Let’s find the solution and move forward.” But ultimately, this is a critical battle and the first thing that the next speaker has to deal with and has to solve and an important component of that is pushing back and fighting with the Senate over those spending levels.
Allen: How do you think history is going to remember this time?
Walker: I think they’re certainly historic. They will certainly be written into history books and they will be civic lessons, hopefully, for future generations, assuming that we continue civics education in this country.
But I am one—and I was told very early on in my career, the most important thing to have in politics is a short-term memory. And so I think that we need to look to the future. The policies that we are advocating for are vital. We are at a critical juncture in this country. If we don’t solve the spending problem, we are in a death spiral of high interest rates, inflation, and overspending that simply can’t be solved.
We’re $33 trillion in debt, $2 trillion deficits this year. And there’s not a positive outlook on that. It does not come down next year back to a trillion in deficits or even balance. It continues.
We are approaching 30-year Treasury bond rates north of 5.5%. That means that our government is spending more to service its debt, to pay interest on the debt that we’re incurring than we do our entire military force annually. And the idea that we’re spending $800 billion just paying interest on the loans that we have incurred for government spending is unconscionable and it’s unsustainable. If we don’t turn this around, we won’t have a country to issue Treasury bonds for in the future.
I alluded to this. I talked about this directly. It is imperative that the next speaker take on this fight and talk through this with the Senate and more importantly, with the American people.
The American people get this. They know where it’s at. They know what it means to balance their checkbook. They know what a credit card bill means, and they’re facing 25% rates on their credit cards, 8% on their mortgage rates, 8% on car loans. It’s unsustainable. And we’re ruining the American dream. Home ownership, car purchasing, finding a job, being able to pay your grocery bills is part of that American dream and it’s being crushed.
Allen: Heritage Action for America’s Ryan Walker. Ryan, thank you for being with us. Thanks for your analysis on this.
Walker: Thanks for having me.
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