Delegation for 1.6.23: House fights — new terms — Florida Speaker? — delayed, denied

U.S. Capitol -- Dome and Flag Closeup
The Speaker schmoz hits home for the Florida delegation.

Speaker who?

Critics often accuse members of Congress of spinning their wheels and doing nothing.

But this week, inaction in the House of Representatives reached a level unseen in a century.

Since the start of the 118th Congress, Reps.-elect failed to conduct its first order of business: choosing a House Speaker.

The House on Thursday evening completed an 11th roll call vote on the matter, but nobody has secured a majority on any ballot so far. That could change this afternoon, as sources close to U.S. Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy signal productive conversations with the House Freedom Caucus. That could end a deadlock and allow the former Minority Leader to win election as the 55th Speaker of the House.

Another day passes in Kevin McCarthy’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

But the stakes of the contest are not important only to McCarthy, or even only to the handful of Florida congressional delegation members directly involved in talks. Until the House seats a Speaker, none of the House’s 435 elected members can be sworn into office.

Technically, that means the delegation as of this writing includes a mere two members: U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Of course, the high-stakes race for Speaker intimately involves Florida Representatives-elect. Four members of the House contingent have made nomination speeches on the House floor: U.S. Reps.-elect Kat Cammack, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna and Brian Mast. One member, U.S. Rep.-elect Byron Donalds, found himself receiving votes for Speaker on nine separate ballots to date.

But it seems only fair to first report updates on business taking place in the single operating chamber of Congress.


While the House remained embroiled in a leadership struggle all week, the Senate moved about business as normal. That included Vice President Kamala Harris swearing in Rubio for a third term. That makes the Miami Republican the first GOP Senator to stand for Florida for part of three Senate terms.

He was already the first Cuban American to represent the state in the body for more than one term (former Sen. Mel Martinez, the first Cuban American ever elected to the body, served shy of a single term).

Marco Rubio is sworn into the record books.

In a week when the growing diversity of the modern GOP caucus was highlighted in surprising ways, Rubio stressed a desire to see continuing diversity in the ranks.

“The Republican Party must become a multi-ethnic, working-class coalition willing to fight for the country and usher in a new American century,” Rubio said.

The Senator this week also laid out a vision for the future. In a piece published in The American Conservative, he called for a change in priorities within Congress.

“We need to rebalance our domestic economy by putting Wall Street in its place,” Rubio wrote. “This means strengthening tools to block and penalize investments that undermine national security, and incentivizing investors to bring capital back to America and put it to work in revitalizing our innovative and productive capacity.”

It’s an agenda that displays his economic principles — and fuels speculation about what the former presidential candidate may do in 2024.

Early start

Scott, happily in the Senate since 2019, is entering the third and final Congress of his first six-year term.

With a re-election campaign in 2024 staring down the pipe, Scott kicked off a statewide “Make Washington Work Tour” this week, laying out his own legislative agenda for the coming Session.

He launched the tour in Doral.

Rick Scott hits the bricks to help make Washington work.

“While we’ve secured some big wins for the Sunshine State during my first four years in the United States Senate,” the Naples Republican said, “our work is far from over.”

Scott continued: “Washington is more broken and dysfunctional than ever, and folks up in D.C. seem to have forgotten that the government is supposed to work for you. So, these next two years, I’ll be fighting even harder to Make Washington Work for all Floridians by ending the dysfunctional status quo, stopping the runaway reckless spending that’s fueling President (Joe) Biden’s inflation crisis, making sure we secure the border and enforce our laws, and getting back to the basics of making sure every family has the opportunity to live in a safe community, send their child to a great school and get a great job so they can live their dreams.”

The Senator surrounded himself with supporters at the official event, including Cuba Decide founder Rosa María Payá, retired Coast Guard Admiral Peter Brown, Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine owner Irina Vilariño, La Puerta Life Center pastor Abraham Rivera, Moms for Liberty Director Catalina Stubbe, Police Benevolent Association of South Florida vice president David Greenwell and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay.

Scott promised to continue pushing conservative agenda items on the Hill.

“Floridians are tired of Washington’s waste and dysfunction, but together we can make Congress play by Florida’s rules and finally make Washington work for the Sunshine State,” he said.

A Florida Speaker?

Over in the House, the planned business of the day slowed or stopped, but Florida’s elected members certainly engaged in the Speaker contest. In particular, the drama significantly raised Donalds’ profile.

The Naples Republican emerged as an alternative nominee for House Speaker on Wednesday when he received 20 votes on three separate ballots over the course of the day. Come Thursday, he received more votes, but a diminishing amount for each later ballot.

Could Byron Donalds (L) be the first Florida-based House Speaker? Image via Twitter.

But an adviser for Donalds told Florida Politics the Naples Republican is no “Never Kevin.” Indeed, he voted for McCarthy on the first two votes for Speaker held Tuesday. He stays the only House member to vote for McCarthy and then vote for another candidate instead, switching his vote to U.S. Rep.-elect Jim Jordan of Ohio on the third ballot. Unlike Jordan, he has stuck with those voting against McCarthy since that point, while Jordan consistently stuck by McCarthy’s side.

The turn of events thrust Donalds into a key role in negotiations of House rules with McCarthy’s team. Of note, news started to emerge of a written deal as an 11th ballot on Speaker began, and that marked the first time in two days no one nominated Donalds for the job. Still, he received votes from a dozen other members, more than anyone formally nominated besides McCarthy or U.S. Rep.-elect Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic nominee.

Those close to Donalds say he would accept the Speaker position if a majority of votes somehow materialized for him, but that he holds no ambition for the job. The top concern for Donalds has been restoring the ability for a single member to make a “motion to vacate” and call for a vote to remove a Speaker at any time. He also fought for assurance floor votes will be held on conservative priorities such as term limits.

Whether any kind of retribution lay ahead for Donalds is hard to say. But the boost in name recognition may come in useful, considering Donalds plans to run for statewide office soon, according to multiple sources.

Flood Gaetz

But without question, the Florida politician most at odds with McCarthy and company is Gaetz. The Fort Walton Beach Republican sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol accusing McCarthy of “squatting” in the Speaker’s Office. He repeatedly asserted his top and only demand in a deal to end obstruction of the vote remains McCarthy’s withdrawal from the race.

Gaetz on the first three ballots for Speaker supported Jordan and then sided with Donalds. But he made a headline-grabbing move Thursday by voting for former President Donald Trump to be invited into the House as Speaker, then formally nominating the ex-commander in chief.

“I nominate President Trump because we must make our country great again,” Gaetz said. “And you can start by making the House of Representatives great again.”

Matt Gaetz promised to vote for Donald Trump as Speaker — and delivered.

Shortly before that, Trump on his Truth Social platform posted a mock photo rendering of Biden delivering a State of the Union address with the former President in the Speaker’s seat making wild hand and face motions.

While few political figures in America prove as divisive as Trump, who was impeached twice and recently referred for criminal charges by the House Jan. 6 Committee, Gaetz said Trump was a more unifying figure than many admit.

“For all of the vitriol that we hear from the media and, at times, the Left, there were great moments of bipartisanship under the Trump presidency,” Gaetz said. He even noted Jeffries and Gaetz had worked with Trump on criminal justice reform.

But it was clear a turbulent history with McCarthy, which included the former Minority Leader reportedly saying the Florida Republican’s rhetoric around the Jan. 6 insurrection was “putting people in jeopardy,” creating major acrimony with Gaetz. McCarthy just this week accused Gaetz of willingly and consciously risking Democrats usurping the chamber, something Gaetz called a lie.

As activity wound down Thursday, Gaetz told reporters he had no interest in a deal, only in preventing McCarthy’s ascension.

Freshman blues

The drawn-out leadership race proved especially consequential for House members in waiting. First-term lawmakers just elected to the delegation showed up Tuesday to the organizing Session ready to be sworn into Congress. Many had families fly into Washington for the occasion. This has meant children running through aisles and loved ones suffering through hours of deliberation and voting.

“Today was House Republicans’ first day ‘in charge’ and they showed they are incapable of leading,” said U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat. “For years, we’ve heard from Republicans that they are ready to govern. But as we saw today, they can’t even elect a Speaker. The American people deserve a functioning Congress that can come together to get things done in a bipartisan fashion.”

He arrived with a special pair of sneakers to honor his father and victims of the Parkland shooting, and his son Sam in a suit and tie. Sam refused to leave the floor until voting was done Tuesday and suggested to Democratic Speaker nominee Jeffries he could whip six votes and pull an upset.

U.S. Rep.-elect Maxwell Alejandro Frost, an Orlando Democrat, tweeted frustrated updates from the floor as his family waited for an oath of office not yet administered.

“Still not sworn in because the Republicans are having a hard time picking their leader. This is a snapshot of how they’ll operate for the next two years,” he said. “Feel like I’m living in a worldstar video the way McCarthy is getting beat down right now by his own party on the house floor.”

Republicans were more reluctant to condemn the process, but many said they also had loved ones in the galley.

But fellow first-termer Luna defended the process.

One of the holdout votes, Luna gave one of the multiple speeches nominating Donalds as a protest vote. She also stressed the protest vote would never allow a Democratic takeover (sorry Sam).

“These discussions and dialogues have actually been good for the American people,” Luna said.

Classmates remained doubtful.

“I picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue,” said Moskowitz while tweeting a clip of Gaetz nominating Trump. And he reiterated his frustrations at the wait to work.

“We always hear from Republicans, ‘government should be run like a business.’ I can’t even get hired.

Florida voices

To date, just four Florida members elected to the new Congress have been allowed to the microphone for debate, as no speeches have taken place beyond nominations.

While Gaetz and Luna gave speeches encouraging votes against McCarthy, two returning members of the delegation took to the floor to encourage support for the Californian. Cammack and Mast were among the 11 members to date to nominate the outgoing Minority Leader.

“This chamber is an instrument of the people’s will and the people have overwhelmingly voted for Kevin McCarthy,” said Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, in a Wednesday nomination.

To watch Cammack’s nomination speech, please click on the image below:

Mast, a Stuart Republican, openly addressed criticisms that McCarthy would be a status-quo Speaker.

“He’s different,” Mast said in a speech Thursday. “He’s not (former GOP Speaker) Paul Ryan. He’s not going to tell you about; you’ll get a term limits bill and then you won’t. He’s not (Senate GOP Leader) Mitch McConnell. He fought against the $1.7 trillion wasteful spending package that was sent to us on New Year’s Eve eve. That’s not him. He’s not (former GOP Speaker) John Boehner. He didn’t throw you all that disagreed with him out on your cans and say, ‘I don’t want to hear from you.’”

The other leadership fight

For many lawmakers, this is only the first critical leadership race on the docket.

The decision on who leads the House Ways and Means Committee, arguably the most powerful panel in Congress, stays undecided. U.S. Rep.-elect Vern Buchanan has been running for the job for nearly two years.

But those involved in the Longboat Key Republican’s campaign are constrained by a stop in business. The GOP Steering Committee makes the final decision about who will lead the committee, with the Speaker holding a weighted four-vote say.

But there is no Speaker — and no members to form the steering committee.

On the back burner? Vern Buchanan faces yet another leadership battle in the 118th Congress.

There has reportedly been tension on the House floor about contests, including aspiring Budget Committee Chair candidates questioning U.S. Rep.-elect Jason Smith of Missouri on his decision to run for two committee Chairs.

Smith seeks the Budget gavel in addition to staying one of three contenders on Ways and Means.

Team Buchanan is keeping an air of confidence — and with reason.

Buchanan is still a senior Republican on Ways and Means, and Forbes this week listed him as one of “10 Lawmakers to Watch” as he aims to take over trade talks in Congress.

But those close to the race for the moment must wait for the Speaker’s race to resolve. There’s a concern that if anyone besides McCarthy wins the election, other committee Chair decisions will wait even longer.

It’s not just that all three major candidates for Ways and Means — Buchanan, Smith, and U.S. Rep.-elect Adrian Smith of Nebraska — support McCarthy. Any other choice as House presiding officer would require even basic functions like the hiring of staff and setting up basic office infrastructure before addressing decisions like Steering Committee makeup.

All of this means further delays in a process that, but for the Speaker’s uncertainty, should have wrapped up in November before the last Congress closed.

Action delayed

But as the tensions within the House chamber mount, many members feel most concerned with impacts that are bleeding into the wider world.

U.S. Rep.-elect John Rutherford took to social media to call out Florida colleagues by name for stalling the process.

“Thanks to (Gaetz, Donalds and Luna), congressional offices like mine aren’t able to help our constituents with casework requests while we wait to be sworn in,” Rutherford tweeted.

The Jacksonville Republican retweeted an email shared by POLITICO reporter Olivia Beavers confirming caseworker services cannot be managed by House staffers until lawmakers are sworn in.

Agencies will not even help with questions about numerous issues.

Sources close to Rutherford said this has especially concerned the Congressman because it involves constituent services to many who have no political involvement.

Casework is often nonpartisan, involving help with federal aid or navigating bureaucracy.

“The small minority obstructing the Speaker election is causing real consequences for Americans,” Rutherford posted.

There’s also concern about whether members — and their staff — will see a delay in their paychecks. House sources said research has been done, and a federal omnibus signed into law offers short-term funding that includes staff operations in the House.

But that all dries up on Jan. 13.

And U.S. Rep.-elect Michael Waltz, the St. Augustine Beach Republican and former Green Beret, hosted a news conference with armed services members in the Republican caucus. The chief concern was that the failure to start House business could compromise national security.

It also stops oversight of Biden’s Defense Department and other parts of the administration. U.S. Reps-elect Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, and Cory Mills, a Winter Park Republican, took part in the media event.

Waltz also later asserted the longer the anti-McCarthy vote holds out, the more likely it is conservative causes will suffer.

“I have serious concerns more moderate Republicans will secure a deal with Democrats that will cede way too much power including Democratic sign off on subpoenas and allowing Senate bills to automatically come to the floor,” he said.

Building anxiety

While upstate conservatives played a leading role in the Republican donnybrook, South Florida’s Republican Representatives were notably less strident in their sentiments — and all stuck with the establishment choice for Speaker.

U.S. Rep.-elect María Elvira Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican, appeared on CNN Wednesday and explicitly warned against the bomb-throwing that ruled the week. “Our party, the Republican Party, should be very cognizant that we are sending the wrong message to our enemies,” Salazar said.

Miami-Dade Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Carlos Giménez offered a similar message and managed to repeat the leading Republican’s name twice during a snippet of his appearance on Fox News he posted on Twitter.

María Elvira Salazar toes the establishment line.

“I am committed to Kevin McCarthy as long as it takes and as long as he is running for Speaker of the House of Representatives, I will be supporting Kevin McCarthy,” Gimenez said.

Mast was not having any turmoil. Rather, he was in favor of a sort of penance.

“Let’s show the American people we’re going to do what service members do,” said the former Army Ranger who lost both legs in Afghanistan. “We’re going to stay here through the night, through the weekend, every weekend, every night until we get the things delivered to the Senate that we promised the American people for the last several years.”

On this day

Jan. 6, 2021 — “Florida delegation universally condemns violence in Capitol” via Florida Politics — Protesters in Washington objecting to scheduled certification of Biden’s victory over Trump. But even those House members who said they would join in objection to electors from several Biden states said the protests seen in Washington are unacceptable. Rubio strongly called on Trump to restore order: “There is nothing patriotic about what is occurring on Capitol Hill. This is third-world-style anti-American anarchy.” U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said: “I condemn the actions of those today who broke through security, U.S. Capitol Police, and law enforcement to force themselves into the Capitol.”

Jan. 6, 1861 — “Federal forts and other properties seized throughout South” via Civil War Book of Days — Florida seized the Apalachicola arsenal (on the northwest coast of the state), and the next day, Fort Marion, in St. Augustine. The Union soldier staffing Fort Marion refused to surrender it unless he was given a receipt for it. He was given the receipt and the fort was taken without shots being fired, as was also the case with the other federal properties.


Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.

Staff Reports


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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

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