House Speaker chaos threatens GOP majority

The political chaos surrounding the vacant Speakership in the House threatens to upend Republican efforts to hold onto their slim majority in next year’s elections.

Questions over who would succeed former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took on a new urgency this weekend amid an escalating war between Israel and Hamas terrorists.

The air of havoc surrounding the GOP’s ouster of McCarthy at a time when a critical US ally is at war could reverberate through some of the most competitive districts next year, such as in New York.

“Having a Speakership sitting vacant at the moment is obviously not good,” said Tom Doherty, a New York-based GOP strategist. “It doesn’t serve us or our foreign partners any good not to have a Speaker of the House.”

The unprecedented vacancy of the Speakership comes as Israel reacts to the massive surprise attack from Hamas, which the U.S. designates as a terror organization. As of Monday afternoon, over 900 people in Israel and over 500 people in Gaza had been killed as a result of the war. 

Without a Speaker, the House cannot greenlight emergency aid to Israel. It’s also unclear whether acting Speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) will be able to receive classified briefings on the matter. 

House Republicans plan to meet on Monday night to discuss how to move forward on the vacancy. 

Some Democrats have hit Republicans over the debacle, saying that the question of whether the House can greenlight funding to Israel is a consequence of the GOP’s intraparty chaos. 

“Every Republican owns this,” said Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist. “To me, one of the most ridiculous and most fallacious arguments that I’ve heard is Republicans trying to blame Democrats for the dysfunction that they own.” 

One Republican strategist told The Hill that it’s still too early to tell how the Speakership dilemma coupled with the war in Israel will impact House Republicans next year, saying “the negative political impacts for us are still very limited.” 

“I think it’s a very short time period,” the strategist said. “Any negative political fallout is going to be temporary at the most.” 

The war has sparked strong reactions from across the political spectrum, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers strongly condemning Hamas and its attack on Israel. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) called U.S. support for Israel “ironclad” on Sunday, while McCarthy said in a press conference on Monday that the U.S. needs a “five-point plan to meet this moment.” McCarthy, meanwhile, did not rule out running for Speaker again in the same press conference. 

Additionally, Reps. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) and Don Davis (D-N.C.) have prepared a bipartisan resolution condemning the attack by Hamas and affirming U.S. support for Israel. 

But some responses have been different in tone and nuance. Progressive Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cory Bush (D-Mo.) have both faced criticism for issuing statements calling Israel an apartheid state in the wake of the attacks by Hamas. Both lawmakers condemned the violence Israelis and Palestinians are facing. 

Those statements have opened the door to criticism from Republicans. 

“Extreme Democrats are rallying in the streets to celebrate terrorism and violence against innocent Israeli citizens. This is who they are,” the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) wrote in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, linking to an article that tied a number of progressive House members to the Democratic Socialists of America. 

The war has sparked strong reactions across the U.S., but particularly in New York, where the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America sponsored a pro-Palestinian rally that took place in Manhattan on Sunday. Prominent New York Democrats including Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Rep. Ritchie Torres, have condemned the rally. 

New York City is home to 1.6 million Jews, making it the city with the second-largest Jewish-concentrated population in the world. A large Jewish population also resides just outside of the New York City area, where there are some competitive House districts. 

Jewish constituents make up a significant portion of the population in New York’s 17th congressional district, which was one of the seats Republicans managed to flip in 2022 in the blue-leaning state. Currently represented by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), President Biden won the district in 2020. The Cook Political Report rates the seat as a “toss-up.” 

Some Republicans argue the current crisis in Israel will help the party politically.

“I think it’s really a huge political benefit to our Republicans in New York,” the Republican strategist said. “Every member of their party is going to have to answer for what the far left is saying about the issue and it’s an incredible opportunity for us to label every member of the party, unless they speak up, as agreeing with them.” 

The GOP strategist also noted that the party would likely target swing districts in Michigan in the wake of Tlaib’s remarks. 

American Jewish voters tend to overwhelmingly vote Democratic, though some Republicans say the war in Israel could move many Jewish voters, particularly in New York’s suburban enclaves, toward Republicans. 

“AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)] and her minions are going to make it more likely that Jews will vote more Republican, more consistently and they are in the suburbs and that’s one of the reasons why Democrats lost the House,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Republican strategist.

“To add to the mix,” Sheinkopf continued, “it’s that crime is seeping in the suburbs from the cities, that the migrant issue is seeping into the suburbs from the cities. The cities appear to be in more chaos than not. And on top of that, the elected officials in the cities are leaning against the state of Israel.” 

But the lack of order in the House poses challenges for the party, which has so far been mired in infighting. If time goes on without a replacement for McCarthy, Republicans could face mounting criticism.

“If I am [Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.)], if I am Lawler, any of these suburban, Biden-district, New York, California Republicans, my job just got a lot harder because once again I am having to defend dysfunction. Once again, I’m having to be a spokesperson for the most out-of-touch, radicalized members of my own conference,” Reinish said. 

“Whoever both wins the presidency has to win the suburbs,” he added. “Whoever wins the House has to win the suburbs.” 

Democrats also pushed back on the notion that the party is in any way anti-Israel, while warning against the response from some progressives within the party. 

“All of the important caucuses have made it clear where they stand,” Reinish said, referring to Democratic leaders. “What is a big, big problem though are people like [Rep.] Ilhan Omar [D-Minn.], Rashida Tliab, Cory Bush, AOC, they took hours to respond, they blamed Israel and it is really repulsive to see what’s going on on the far left.” 

Doherty, the GOP strategist, noted the human element of the war in Israel, saying it isn’t time for political commentary for what it means going forward. 

“People died,” he said “There’s no winners in this situation.” 

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