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House Republicans face a math problem in picking a new speaker

Republicans are preparing for a closed-door vote on whom they would like to be the next Speaker of the House. How will the decision affect the direction of Congress? Hari Sreenivasan takes a look at the contenders with political director Lisa Desjardins.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But, first, cell phones are ringing furiously at the U.S. Capitol tonight, as House Republicans prepare for a closed-door vote tomorrow on whom they would like to be the next speaker of the House.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins joins us now to explain the tumultuous time and what will be a major decision for the direction of Congress.

    So, first of all, Lisa, I'm sure you will do this throughout the interview, but why does this matter? And there were some recent dramatic developments this afternoon too. Fill us in.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    This is a critical decision, Hari, because, as I don't need to tell our viewers, Congress has had some trouble over the past years in dealing with major issues and dealing especially with fiscal crises.

    While there are more fiscal crises coming, including a debt ceiling that the U.S. is about to hit on November 5, the government runs out of funding in December. Also, Highway Trust Fund is about to run out. These are all issues that are circulating. These are all unresolved. And without clear leadership from the House, it just makes the current problems even more difficult to figure out.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. What happened late this afternoon?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    All right. So, I just came from there.

    We had a group of conservatives known as the House Freedom Caucus. They're partially responsible for the ouster of House Speaker Boehner. They decided to endorse a new candidate, a relatively new candidate for speaker, a man named Daniel Webster from Florida.

    He himself was a House speaker in the Florida Statehouse. A lot of folks might not have heard of him. This is important for a couple of reasons. These are who — this is a man that conservatives want. We don't think he has more votes than the current front-runner. That's Kevin McCarthy of California.

    But these conservatives may have enough votes to block Kevin McCarthy from getting the majority that he needs. McCarthy is facing a lot of doubts right now, Hari, about his ability, especially after words he had about the Benghazi hearings and about how those affected Secretary of State and presidential candidate Clinton.

    But he did try to assuage his critics this morning when he spoke to reporters.

  • REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, Majority Leader:

    I think I have been very clear when it comes to Benghazi. I could have said it in a different manner, yes.

    And I think, at any given time, somebody could always say something better. Over time, you will prove that we have a very good message. I think the job of a speaker is to be a team captain, all part of a team. We have got a lot of members inside this conference that lead a very good job of getting the message out, and we will continue to do it.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Hari, that's McCarthy wanting to be team captain, but, right now, I have to tell you, there's a lot of nervousness even among those who are firmly on his team.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. Let's talk about his sort of — his biggest rival, Mr. Chaffetz of Utah.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Right.

    I think Mr. — Jason Chaffetz is also on the hunt here, he's the number three. And I think what's interesting is that Chaffetz is in this because there is this critical problem. I spoke to him Monday about what essentially is a math problem for both Kevin McCarthy and for House Republicans.

    REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), Utah: And you need 218 votes on the floor of the House.

    The problem for Mr. McCarthy is, there are roughly 50 or so, and growing, number of people who just cannot or will not vote to promote existing leadership into the speaker's role. So, I worry that he is going to fall short of the 218. It's going to cause some chaos internally, and nobody is arguing with the premise that Mr. McCarthy might be more than a few votes shy of the 218 necessary.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Now, I know, Hari, NewsHour is a place where we can get into a little bit into the weeds. That got a lot into the weeds.

    Because, what he's saying is that while Kevin McCarthy may have more votes than anyone else for Republicans right now, he still doesn't have a majority in the House. So, here's what we think might happen. Kevin McCarthy might walk away tomorrow with more votes than anyone else behind closed doors, but he may not have enough votes for what matters, the speaker's election on October 29.

    He needs 218 votes. And because of conservatives supporting either Chaffetz or Congressman Webster, no one might have enough votes right now. This leads to a very difficult situation. One longtime source of mine tonight called it Neverland.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK, so what happens? Is there a scenario here where either John Boehner has to stick around and be a speaker, or do we not have a number three in line to the presidency?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That's what happens when you're in Neverland.

    I think that a lot of folks are reading the rules tonight and over the next week to see what could happen if no one gets 218 when a speaker's vote is held. In the past, in the history, there have been many long speaker's elections. It's been several decades since we have had one.

    But they could just continue to have ballot votes until someone reaches 218. Hari, another plan is sort of evolving tonight, that if they reach this point, perhaps Speaker Boehner does stay in the job until they find consensus, until Republicans find a person who they want to lead.

    Now, again, Kevin McCarthy still is the leading candidate, but there are real questions about his leadership at this point. And, to be honest, he has got just another day to try and shore that up.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Lisa Desjardins, political director for the NewsHour joining us from Capitol Hill tonight, thanks so much.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    My pleasure.

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