In the latest sign of House chaos, the temporary speaker is threatening to quit

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., is resisting a push to get him to move legislation without an explicit vote to expand his powers.


WASHINGTON — In a closed-door meeting Thursday, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., told GOP colleagues he might resign as speaker pro tempore if Republicans push him to try to move legislation on the floor without an explicit vote to expand his powers, according to multiple lawmakers in the room.

“If you guys try to do that, you’ll figure out who the next person on Kevin’s list is,” McHenry told the room, three sources said, referring to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's secret list of GOP lawmakers who would serve as temporary speaker in the event of a vacancy.

McHenry's comments underscore the quandary Republicans are in: They can't really do anything until they choose a new speaker, but they can't agree on someone who can get the votes to be that new speaker.

And McHenry is unwilling to set a precedent that would give future temporary speakers the full power of speakers who are elected on the House floor. It could mean that the House wouldn't need to elect speakers in the future.

It's an idea that McCarthy himself has been floating, and it was the subject of debate during Republicans' 3½-hour private meeting Thursday. During the discussion, some Republicans asked whether they could give McHenry more power "by acclamation" or whether they needed to take an internal vote in the room.

It's a different idea from the formal resolution proposed by Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, which would require a floor vote to empower McHenry to move legislation like spending bills and aid packages for Ukraine and Israel.

A GOP lawmaker described McHenry's remarks as an implicit threat of resignation. The lawmaker said McHenry had made the same suggestion to individual members before he spoke to the larger conference.

A second GOP lawmaker said that McHenry made the remarks “tongue in cheek” but that the message was clear: He questioned the constitutionality of such an option and said he did not want the greater authority unless Republicans agreed to grant it to him through a formal vote.

McHenry “will not act in a manner he interprets as unconstitutional” as speaker pro tem, a third member in the room said. 

In individual conversations with members, McHenry also has threatened to resign as speaker pro tem if such a resolution were passed on the floor, the GOP lawmaker said.

McHenry's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

McCarthy has been one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that McHenry does not need the House to allow him to bring legislation to the floor. 

“When I put McHenry’s name down it was my belief that if something happened to me that McHenry could run the floor until we elected a new speaker. It was not my intention when I put a name down that they couldn’t do anything,” McCarthy told reporters after Thursday's meeting, during which lawmakers debated whether to vote on Joyce’s resolution.

McCarthy was referring to the fact that since 2003, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, House rules have required the speaker to submit a list of names to the clerk of members to act in case of a vacancy in the position and to ensure continuity of government.

McHenry has consistently denied any interest in expanding his role. 

“I’m focused on electing Jim Jordan, the speaker nominee, as speaker of the House,” he told reporters Thursday when he briefly left the conference meeting. “That’s my goal. That’s my purpose.”