© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri and Illinois Republican representatives divided over who should succeed McCarthy

The United States Capitol on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Washington D.C.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in June. The winner of the intraparty battle for the U.S. House speakership will lead a divided Republican caucus with a slim majority.

Republican members of Congress who represent Missouri and the Metro East are divided over who should be next speaker of the House of Representatives.

But regardless of whether Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan becomes the leader of the divided GOP majority, some Missouri lawmakers want the intraparty battle settled so Congress can avoid a government shutdown — and respond to the crisis in Israel and Gaza.

“For not only what’s happening in Israel, but also the appropriations process, it’s extremely important in my mind that we get back to work,” said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield.

Republicans are meeting this week to hear from both Jordan and Scalise, the two official candidates to succeed Kevin McCarthy. Eight Republicans joined with House Democrats to oust McCarthy as speaker.

Thus far, Missouri Reps. Ann Wagner and Blaine Luetkemeyer are backing Scalise, who currently serves as the House majority leader. Wagner said in a statement that Scalise “is the hardest worker I know, a prolific fundraiser, and he has shown courage and grace in the face of profound adversity.”

“He has the experience and the conservative values necessary to lead us through this crisis and into an even stronger Republican majority in 2024,” said Wagner, R-Ballwin.

Illinois Rep. Mary Miller endorsed Jordan, currently chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Among other reasons, Miller said that Jordan can be a bulwark against President Joe Biden and the Democratically controlled Senate.

"Under Speaker Jim Jordan, House Republicans will know they have a leader who will listen to them, fight for them, and stand with them in our battle to save America,” Miller said.

While Republicans have been meeting over the past week over the speaker’s race, it’s unclear when the House will actually vote on a new speaker. But Burlison, who said he won’t publicly reveal whom he is backing in the race, said there’s urgency to get the process finished quickly.

“That's the prevailing reason why I did not support ousting McCarthy. Because regardless of his positions, I felt like it was a horrible time to change speakers,” Burlison said.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that McCarthy floated himself as a potential compromise candidate if the GOP caucus deadlocks. While Luetkemeyer and Burlison said that could hypothetically occur, both added that such a move would likely prolong the vacuum in the speaker’s office — especially if the eight Republicans who voted to remove him refuse to back him.

“Our problem is that we can get 200 people behind one particular person,” Luetkemeyer said. “It’s hard to get to 218 when you only have 222 to play with. So we have a numbers problem. And we have a number of people that are adamant about supporting one candidate or not supporting another candidate. And so this is our problem. We have to go to the floor and be able to nominate and support our candidate with enough votes to be able to elect a speaker.”

Illinois U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Oakland) waves to the crowd on Saturday, June 25, 2022, during a “Save America!” Rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois U.S. Rep. Mary Miller is supporting Jordan to succeed McCarthy.

Government funding and the Israel-Hamas war

McCarthy’s ouster and the race to replace him is getting more focus for two reasons: The House will need to be functional to pass legislation funding the government — and there are questions about whether Congress can pass anything related to the crisis in Israel and Gaza with a speakership vacuum.

Legislation that Congress approved several weeks ago that averted a government shutdown expires in mid-November, which means that the House and Senate will need to either pass an extension or resolve the spending dispute in the next few weeks.

Without resolving the speakership debate, Luetkemeyer said Congress is “burning valuable time when we need to be in our appropriations committees.”

“So we've got a lot of things to do over the next couple of weeks and hopefully get a couple of bills passed that we can go to conference on and minimize the number of things we put into another [bill funding the federal government],” Luetkemeyer said.

Luetkemeyer also said that the speaker of the House often plays a larger role in foreign affairs than the public realizes. For instance, he pointed out how McCarthy met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wenand how former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, traveled to Taiwan when she was speaker.

“This individual is somebody who has international contacts and who negotiates at the very highest level with heads of state,” Luetkemeyer said. “[Then-House Speaker John] Boehner was able to get the pope to come to the House. McCarthy was very tight with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. So each one of them has their individual heads of state around the world that they have some relationships with. And I think that's important.”

The Missouri Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, during the first day of the legislative session in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, has used his experience in the Missouri Senate as a cautionary tale to his colleagues in Washington, D.C.

Can Republicans mend fences?

Burlison in particular has a unique perspective about the factionalism in the GOP House caucus.

As a member of the Missouri Senate, he was, at least initially, in a group of GOP senators known as the Conservative Caucus that often clashed with Republican Senate leaders. And as a member of the House Freedom Caucus, he’s often used that experience to warn his colleagues against engaging in fights that have a minimal chance of success.

“I'm proud of our state, but I think that the Missouri Senate has become a toxic environment,” said Burlison, who served in the Senate from 2019 to 2023. “I don't want to enter fights just to be in the fight. … And look, there's nothing about my political philosophy that has been moderated. That is not any less conservative than it was. I just understand the concept that you have to pick which battles that you can actually win and work with people when you can.”

Luetkemeyer said he hopes his caucus can eventually come together. But he reiterated his criticism about how some of the people who ousted McCarthy were motivated either by attention or raising campaign money — not because they were trying to adhere to conservative principles.

“There's a hypocrisy of this group on top of the self-centeredness that is beyond the pale,” Luetkemeyer said.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.