Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor
Rob Menendez Jr. showed up to the U.S. Capitol with his wife, two kids, and other family members in tow on Tuesday, ready to be sworn in and begin his first day as a member of the House of Representatives.
But by Wednesday, after the new Congress failed to elect a speaker even after six rounds of balloting, Menendez’s family had already returned to Jersey City.
“I’m glad they did because this isn’t going to be done for a while,” said Menendez (D-08) in an interview Wednesday night.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), who was reelected to her third term in Congress in November, echoed Menendez’s criticism of the chaos and confusion seen in D.C. since House members convened Tuesday.
“Our nation pushes us ever more towards bipartisan solutions and towards moderation and thoughtful legislation and pragmatic legislation. It becomes even harder and harder to see that enacted in Congress,” Sherrill said during a press call Wednesday morning.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who is most House Republicans’ choice to be speaker, has seen his campaign for the spot derailed by a small group of conservative Republicans who say the party should find new leadership.
If all members of the House are present and voting, McCarthy would need 218 votes to become speaker, and he has failed to get more than 203 during every round of voting. He won 201 votes on the sixth round Wednesday before the House adjourned until Thursday. McCarthy’s GOP critics voted for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Florida), who won 20 votes.
Until a speaker is elected, Congress cannot conduct its normal business. Lawmakers can’t take their oaths of office, new rules cannot be set, and legislative committees cannot be formed.
Menendez called this frustrating, especially for new members. The son of Sen. Bob Menendez, he was first elected in November.
“We came here because we know there’s work to be done … and it’s frustrating that we can’t even get close to beginning that work because of the complete dysfunction of the Republican Party,” said Menendez.
Menendez and the Democrats are united behind Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), who has received 212 votes for speaker during every round of voting. But Sherrill suggested some Democrats could be open to ending the stalemate by supporting a moderate Republican — not McCarthy.
“He has already given up the store to the right wing, so why would we make him speaker when he’s already agreed to sort of the list of demands from the right? I think what would have to happen is someone would have to come forward and say, ‘Look, here’s how I’m going to govern. I think this makes sense for everyone, I think it’s good for our country,’” she said.
Sherrill added she’d be “amenable” to a compromise pick if Republican colleagues moved it forward.
She stressed these conversations are ongoing, and any talks of Democrats siding with Republicans are largely one-off conversations and mainly out of curiosity.
She also suggested there could be a “better candidate than McCarthy” who hasn’t angered “the extreme of the party.” Someone more right-wing like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), she said, would not advance because “they know that will be unacceptable.”
Menendez said he doesn’t believe a moderate Republican would be nominated, because the so-called Freedom Caucus — members of the GOP holding out against McCarthy — would not support that person either.
“It’s really incumbent upon the Republicans, and specifically McCarthy, because he has not been able, over the course of two days, to forge a pathway to speakership,” Menendez said. “They have to come up with a different plan than sitting here for two days, and I look across the aisle and see no plan.”
Sherrill and Menendez — like all of New Jersey’s House delegation — have both cast every vote in support of Jeffries. The state’s three House Republicans — Reps. Tom Kean Jr., Chris Smith, and Jeff Van Drew — have supported McCarthy.
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