As the question of who will become the next Speaker of the House remains in flux, some lawmakers are reportedly discussing the possibility of the GOP putting forward a “coalition” candidate — someone that a significant portion of Republicans and Democrats can agree on.
Republicans currently have 222 seats in the House of Representatives, and need only 218 votes to pick the next speaker. However, around 20 far right GOP lawmakers are refusing to unite behind Republican House leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (California), making it impossible for him to win the speakership.
Six failed votes in the House have been held on the question so far. McCarthy has secured slightly over 200 votes in each one, well short of the majority needed to win the position.
If the GOP doesn’t put another nominee forward, the situation could last days, if not weeks, especially if those far right lawmakers and McCarthy refuse to cooperate.
Some lawmakers have suggested that it’s time to consider a different option: selecting a moderate Republican to run instead, and asking Democrats to back that candidate in exchange for changes to House rules in the next session of Congress.
Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan who retired from Congress this year, has been suggested by commentators as a potential compromise between the parties, as he’s been willing to work with Democrats on a number of issues in the past. Upton is one of ten Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in the Capitol attack, and he supported the creation of the January 6 committee, praising the commission’s work when it ended last month.
Republicans who recognize that McCarthy may not be able to win have already begun “preliminary” talks with Democrats about the idea of nominating a consensus candidate to be speaker, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska) told CNN. Though it hasn’t yet been confirmed, it’s likely that Upton is among the potential candidates they are discussing.
Upton has said he is open to becoming Speaker of the House if it’s necessary for him to do so. “I haven’t ruled that out,” he told NBC News, “but we’re a long way from getting to that point.”
That there have been so many failed votes shows that the House in its current incarnation has “real problems,” he added.
The Detroit News has also reported on Upton’s interest in assuming the speakership, writing that Upton has said he will do so if it means ending “the dysfunction that is doing so much damage to the country.” If selected, Upton has indicated he will make concessions to Democrats in exchange for their coalition votes, including possibly offering equal representation on committees, similar to a shared governance agreement that was made in the Senate in 2019.
“I would need Democrats,” Upton said. “I could get a significant number of Republicans.”
If Upton was chosen to be speaker as a coalition candidate, he would be the first speaker of the House in history who wasn’t a current member of the legislative chamber at the time of assuming the position. (The U.S. Constitution does not require a person to be a representative of the House in order to become speaker.)
The math for Upton — or any other coalition candidate for speaker, for that matter — is relatively simple: such a candidate would need to attain 218 votes in the House, which could be achieved by securing the support of every Democratic member of the chamber plus at least six Republicans. For every Democrat who doesn’t support the coalition candidate, however, an additional Republican vote would be needed.
Upton may have difficulty convincing Democrats to back him — while he has stated unequivocally that he believes climate change is real, he has supported numerous anti-environmental policies, including the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and opposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule changes under former President Barack Obama.
Still, some progressive Democrats haven’t ruled out the possibility of supporting a coalition candidate. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), speaking to Daily Beast reporter Ursula Perano, noted that Democrats would need more concessions than equal representation on committees in order to back a candidate like Upton.
“But, I mean, hey, if we could get some chairs” on some House committees, that might change things, she added.
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