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The Issues Piling Up for the New Speaker of the House

When Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected Speaker of the House in January (after fifteen rounds of voting), I wrote that it was probably “the most unenviable job in Washington, DC” given the narrow majority, internal conference politics, and a looming election on the horizon. I was wrong – the job of the new Speaker of the House may actually be worse. Without even having a Speaker in place yet, the list of issues the next Speaker will need to navigate are increasing by the minute. Here are the key priorities the new Speaker will be most focused on:

Finding a Path Forward for the Remaining 2023 Policy Agenda: This will not be a position that will allow for time to evaluate what needs to be done, as the policy agenda is already in place with both deadlines and significant penalties for inaction. The first order of business will be to determine a manageable path for FY24 funding (or another CR) by November 17th that can get enough support and not trigger another vote to oust the Speaker (easier said than done). Additionally, focus will be on solidifying a negotiated National Defense Authorization Act (Dec. 31), FAA Reauthorization (Dec. 31), Farm Bill (Dec. 31), funding for Ukraine and Israel, additional disaster funding, and several other Republican priorities that do not have a defined deadline. With around 25 legislative days left in the House, the agenda and the need to build bipartisan support for it will be overwhelming to anyone in leadership, especially the new Speaker.

Rebuilding Key Relationships: The House-Senate dynamic among Republicans is worse than it has been in a while, and it's only worsening by the overwhelming opposition many Republican Senators had to Speaker McCarthy being removed. Building trust and collaboration with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his leadership team will be vital in providing a unified front in conference negotiations and broader strategy to move legislation. Additionally, the new Speaker will need to spend some time reconnecting relationships with Democratic leadership in the House given their important role in key votes on the House floor.

Uniting the Conference: Potentially the Speaker’s most difficult priority to tackle will be to unite a conference that is not only fractured, but being driven by a small minority of Republican policymakers. There may not be an interest among members to bring the conference together at this point, but if there is not some unity, then every piece of legislation with a deadline (see list above) will be used to include demands that will never make it through the legislative process. Ultimately, the Speaker will need to find a strategy that is both realistic given the current political landscape (a Biden White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate) and agreed upon by all corners of the conference…a tall order.

Determining a Path Forward on Oversight: With a number of high-profile investigations – not the least of which is the impeachment inquiry being conducted by the House Judiciary Committee – the Speaker will need to determine both what should be prioritized and how these investigations are finalized this Congress. Like everything else, this involves a variety of opinions among Republicans and will bring new controversy regardless of what decisions are made.

Hitting the Campaign Trail: The Speaker is always the top fundraiser for Republican members of Congress. When Congress is not in session, he is usually traveling all over the country helping to raise funds for his colleagues and visiting their districts. Speaker McCarthy leaves big shoes to fill in this category and the new Speaker will have to dedicate a significant amount of time to politics in the coming year, especially with vulnerable Republicans facing well-funded opposition.

Building a 2024 Policy Agenda: With an election on the horizon, the House will need to build a policy agenda that aligns with the Presidential candidate and all others on the ballot. While much of this will not pass, it helps to elevate a message and narrative as well as connectivity to the Presidential campaign. With a divided conference, messaging can be difficult but necessary.

The next Speaker will have a lot to deal with and not a lot of time to deal with it. It will be interesting to watch how the conference either helps or hurts the ability to tackle these core priorities as well as those that will certainly emerge that might not be on the radar yet.


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