Speaker race leaves little margin for error

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 18: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks to reporters during his weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on March 18, 2022 in Washington, DC. McCarthy blamed Democrats for national and state policies that he said hinder domestic energy production, which results in more opportunities for Russia to sell its oil and natural gas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jan. 3, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 1

  • McCarthy makes concessions to skeptical conservatives as speaker vote approaches
  • Mitch Daniels would start off as Senate frontrunner in Indiana
  • Wisconsin conservatives must defend their state Supreme Court majority in April


Speaker 2023: Swirling in the background of the Speaker’s race is the saga of Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), who was elected in a close Long Island race after telling several glaring lies about his life and his candidacy. The margin of error for any Republican leader in the house is already minuscule, but this only makes matters worse.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), although he is probably the only Republican with any chance of actually becoming speaker, is struggling to nail down the math for this week’s speaker election. In an effort to mollify conservative skeptics, he has already agreed to lower the threshold for removing him from the speakership, to the point that five members acting together could put a motion to vacate the chair on the house floor. 

But some conservative house members want any individual member to be able to bring such a motion. And nine of them — more than enough to block McCarthy or anyone else from becoming Speaker — have put into writing their displeasure with the current rules package being offered.

McCarthy cannot afford to lose any more than four votes on the House floor. He may have to make further concessions in order to secure the speakership.

On the other hand, a motion to vacate that doesn’t have more than a single disgruntled member behind it is not going to mean much to anyone except as a means of hassling the House leadership. For example, would you really want to put your caucus leader at the mercy of someone like George Santos, without his having to act in concert with anyone else?

On the one hand, a liberally interpreted motion to vacate will help whole leaders accountable. On the other hand, it threatens to put a lot of power to create delays and embarrassing intra-party drama in the hands of some pretty unaccountable House members. 

Other than that, Republican changes to House rules are fairly uncontroversial and straightforward. The abolition of proxy voting and absentee membership in the House will be quite welcome. The disbanding of the January 6th committee and the reinstatement of “cut as you go” accounting are widely agreed upon by Republicans, although the latter may not accomplish much in the long run.

Senate 2024

Indiana: the new poll released by Rep. Victoria Spartz (R) indicates two things. First of all, It shows that she is quite serious about running for that state’s open Senate seat in 2024. Second, it shows that former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) really would be the frontrunner in the Republican primary, were he to run — just like you’d expect. 

In this poll, Daniels leads the field with 35 percent support, followed by The indianapolis-based Spartz and Fort Wayne area Rep. Jim Banks (R), with 14 percent each. That does not necessarily make him a prohibitive frontrunner, but he would start off as a decisive front-runner in a crowded race, with more than twice as much support as anyone else.

With Sen. Mike Braun (R) already committed to the open-seat governor’s race, most Republicans do not want to face up against him and his ample personal resources, which makes the Senate race the marquee matchup of 2024 in the state.

The poll shows that both Braun and Daniels have overwhelmingly positive favorability ratings, north of 60 percent, and that both have nearly universal name recognition.

Democrats will have very little chance in this open-seat race — a fact of life for their party in all of the 2024 Senate races. 

State races

Wisconsin-Supreme Court: This summer, Justice Patience Roggensack’s seat on the state Supreme Court will come open. She is retiring, and so control of the court, which currently splits 4-3 conservative, will be at stake on April 4, after a late February top-two primary election. 

Former Justice Daniel Kelly, a Walker appointee who lost his seat in 2020, is one of two conservatives running, along with Walker-appointed Judge Jennifer Dorow. The two liberals in the running are Everett Mitchell and Janet Protasiewicz

There is no guarantee that both liberals and conservatives will be represented in the April election — two liberals or two conservatives could advance, depending on how the primary goes.

With conservatives only recently having wrested control of this crucial state court from the Left, this could be the most consequential state race of 2023. Certainly, it is the most consequential race of the spring season. 

The outcome could also be an early indication of a very competitive state’s political direction for this presidential cycle. Be sure to keep this race on your calendar.