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GOP Scrambles To Find A New House Speaker; Scalise, Jordan Among Those Floated As Potential Speaker; Hardliners: What They Want And How The GOP Conference Will Respond. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 04, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Check out The Wall Street Journal editorial board this morning. "Republicans Cut Off Their Own Heads" says it all.

Good morning. Thank you for being here with us. I am Kasie Hunt live on Capitol Hill on what is a historic day. We have no Speaker of the House right now.

And with Kevin McCarthy out, who's going to get his job? I mean, more to the point, who would want the job? Now, this is Washington so there are several people who do.

Steve Scalise, the number-two Republican in House leadership, has already started reaching out to members. One told CNN he's getting good support already. Scalise is battling blood cancer but he told reporters he's up to the job.


REPORTER: Are you physically up to the job as speaker? Do you feel OK? (INAUDIBLE).

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): I feel great.


HUNT: "I feel great," Scalise says there. Remember, this is a man who recovered after being shot at a congressional baseball practice. There's a lot of goodwill towards him in the struggles that he's had.

Now, there's also Jim Jordan. He is the House Judiciary chair. In the past, he's consistently ruled out running for speaker, but he really didn't rule it out when CNN asked him about it on Tuesday. Take a look.



REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): That's a decision for the conference.

RAJU: So are you open to it?


HUNT: That's Washington code for I'm not saying no. He was asked later off-camera if fellow Republicans were approaching him to run. He said, quote, "I'm not going to get into all of that." Again, Washington speak for I'm thinking about it.

So who is going to become the next Speaker of the House? Let's ask our distinguished panelists Rina Shah, Maria Cardona, and Matt Mowers. And joining us here outside the Capitol is Akayla Gardner, the White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. I'm very grateful to all of you for being here.

Rina, let me start with you. For our viewers who maybe aren't familiar with your background, you worked here as a Republican inside the House leadership. You know these men well. House Speaker Boehner who, of course, resigned in the face of a mutiny from these folks -- just didn't want to deal with it. Paul Ryan ultimately left as well. Kevin McCarthy now thrown out by them.

Who does want this job? Is there anyone that's capable of doing this job?

RINA SHAH, FORMER GOP SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL AIDE, PRINCIPAL AND FOUNDER, RILAX STRATEGIES: There are many people who still want the job. There's been this sort of myth perpetuated that a centrist cannot succeed in this role. And I want to push back on that because you have to be somebody that understands compromise. Somebody that's willing to reach across the aisle.

And that's one thing that I've seen in the aftermath of Hakeem Jeffries taking the leadership post for Democrats -- do really well for the Democrats. That's really served them well. Hakeem Jeffries looks like a steady hand at the wheel. He's been able to unify his caucus in a way that I did not see coming.

And so, the Republicans really need that. And when you look at the choices, like Scalise and Jordan, you don't see moderates, right? But you do see people that could have wide appeal. And I think Scalise far more than Jordan because Jordan really represents what could be considered the fringe of the party.

And we've seen the empirical evidence that shows that MAGA is a faction of today's Republican Party is dwindling in influence. But that doesn't change how Americans see this building, Kasie -- entirely dysfunctional.

HUNT: You know, I will say I think I have to push back on that in terms of MAGA and -- I mean, because the reason that we're here outside the Capitol today is because of the influence --


HUNT: -- of them -- of that segment of the party. And, you know, Matt, we're talking about how -- and you dealt with

this yourself directly in your own congressional race that Republicans have sent people here to Washington -- Republican voters who honestly are not that interested in governing. And that's what we saw here. They are propelled by the MAGA wing of the party and they land here. And, I mean, I think the House of Representatives is really a leading indicator for where the country ended up with Donald Trump.

So, I mean, in what world -- why is it different for Steve Scalise to run this House with Matt Gaetz and company still there?

MATT MOWERS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, FORMER GOP CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE: Sure. Well, there's actually two groups that led us here, right? You have the MAGA Republicans, like Matt Gaetz. You have Democrats. I mean, look, I hear Democrats saying they're the adults in the room yet they're the ones who saddled up with a bunch of extremists like Matt Gaetz.

HUNT: Well, look --

MOWERS: -- in order to actually bring this situation.

HUNT: OK, look, that's -- no, no, no, no, no. I do not want to go there right now.


HUNT: I want to talk about the infighting --


HUNT: -- inside the Republican Party because the reality is those Democrats kept the government open. Kevin McCarthy was happy to take their votes. He would have been happy to take their support yesterday.


HUNT: So let's just drill down on if Steve Scalise were to get this job, let's say, what is the difference between how he could manage this faction in his own party and how Kevin McCarthy wasn't able to?

MOWERS: Well, look, Steve Scalise is a consensus builder. I know him well. He was a great supporter of me in my two races.

And just like Kevin McCarthy was these guys were in constant touch monitoring situations on the ground. They're in touch with their membership.

The next speaker -- and I think Steve Scalise is well-positioned to do that -- is in touch with the membership. They have the relationships from having been in leadership. He's got relationships with donors. He's one of the top small-dollar fundraisers.

HUNT: But Kevin McCarthy had all those relationships.

MOWERS: Sure, but you also heard Matt Gaetz say he was perfectly comfortable with Steve Scalise being Speaker of the House.

HUNT: Right.

MOWERS: That's a key difference.


You know, look, sometimes there is a bias within the Republican Party against blue-state Republicans. As a guy who comes from the Northeast as a Republican, I feel it often when I'm talking to someone from South Carolina, or Louisiana, or something like that.

HUNT: They look at you a little sideways like, well, maybe we don't trust you.

MOWERS: Steve Scalise -- they look a little sideways. Look, but they say if you're a Republican in the Northeast you must be talking to too many Democrats out there, right?

And look, Kevin McCarthy always had those same suspicions from the Republican base, from Republican members despite the fact that he's a rock-ribbed Republican member -- a rock-ribbed conservative.

Steve Scalise is going to face those same challenges yet he still has those same relationships Kevin McCarthy did --

SHAH: If I could add --

MOWERS: -- without that same skepticism.

SHAH: He has a really strong team around him -- Scalise. They are very loyal. They've been with him for years. And you need that.

HUNT: Yeah.

SHAH: You need to augment your whipping operation with somebody like that who has that loyalty --

HUNT: Right.

SHAH: -- built in.

HUNT: Well -- and especially because he is dealing with many of these challenges.

Akayla, let me get you in here because you cover the White House. We do know that the Biden White House is watching this extraordinarily closely because they obviously are going to have to work with whoever is ultimately selected here. And honestly, they're also going to have to grapple with the fact that there's no sitting House of Representatives right now, really, until Tuesday, apparently, which is an unprecedented reality in American history.

What are they looking for, who are they talking to, and what do they expect at this point? AKAYLA GARDNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, right now, they haven't really weighed into this speaker debate. They said they didn't want to -- or in the president's words, he didn't want to have a vote in the matter. He said that this weekend.

But whoever it is, like you mentioned, they need to work with him. And that is something that Biden was able to do with McCarthy. They were able to reach this debt limit deal. They were also able to reach this deal to avert a government shutdown, obviously, this week.

Whoever it is, they want that person to be able to build coalitions. That is huge for President Biden. He really cares a lot about reaching across the aisle and bipartisanship. And that was McCarthy's downfall. He wasn't able to build coalitions enough in order to keep the position as speaker.

HUNT: Yeah.

And Maria, very quick last word. We've got to go.

CARDONA: That's, I think, going to be the difficulty. Because if he builds coalitions then the Matt Gaetz of his party is going to say that's it -- we can't work with him.

HUNT: That's exactly what happened. That is what happened here.

All right, we're going to get much more from Rina, Maria, Matt, and Akayla in just a moment. We're going to have more questions coming up.

But just ahead here, what brought down the House speaker and why it was such a big problem. We are live from Capitol Hill when we come right back.




REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You know, I wouldn't change a thing.


HUNT: Wow. That is the now former House speaker Kevin McCarthy last night claiming he wouldn't change a thing. But there may be one thing. Maybe the concessions to conservatives that he made back in January to win the speaker's gavel.

He agreed to give any single member the power to do this -- what we saw yesterday. The power to trigger a floor vote to oust the speaker. That came back to bite him and he is well aware of it. Take a look.


REPORTER: What advice do you have for the next speaker?

MCCARTHY: Change the rules.


HUNT: At least he get -- at least he's still got his sense of humor.

We are back live on Capitol Hill with Rina Shah, Republican; Maria Cardona, Democratic; Matt Mowers, also a Republican; and Akayla Gardner, a reporter from Bloomberg News.

And, you know, Maria, I actually want to start with you on this one because this was something that Nancy Pelosi never allowed to happen to her because she actually changed the rules --

CARDONA: Uh-huh.

HUNT: -- when she came in this second time around as speaker to say no, we're not going to do this. And her caucus -- she kept them together. They went along with her. They said OK, no single one of us is going to be able to do this.


HUNT: And McCarthy was, honestly, so desperate to get the gavel in -- when this process started that he allowed them --


HUNT: -- to have this tool in their toolbox. And it seems like he's acknowledging here hey, that was a big mistake.

CARDONA: Absolutely. It was a sort of damnically (PH) that he couldn't get away from. And to Rina's point, it also showed his naked ambition. He wanted that gavel come hell or high water. He sold his soul for it. After 15 votes he knew that he had to do this -- this vote in order to be able to get that gavel. And, yes, I do think, obviously, he came to regret it.

And look, Nancy Pelosi is the master, right? She's going to go down in history as the best speaker ever because she was able to keep her caucus together.

MOWERS: I disagree with you.

CARDONA: But I will say it was the smartest, the most strategic, right? Because people -- you know, Republicans were saying last night well, McCarthy was in a tough position because he only had a five-vote majority. Nancy Pelosi had a four-vote majority.

HUNT: I mean, that is a very fair criticism --


HUNT: -- of McCarthy.

CARDONA: Absolutely. And so -- and so I think that at the end of the day, that is going to be the thing in terms of what we look for the next speaker. What are going to be the ways in which he or she gets that power because the Matt Gaetz of the world aren't going to give it to them for free? So what are they going to extract that's going to be different from what Kevin McCarthy did?

HUNT: Yeah, I mean, Rina, the reality was that this threat was hanging over him the entire time he was Speaker of the House. Do you think it would have been avoidable? Do you think he could have gotten the speaker's gavel without doing this or not?

SHAH: I don't think so. I mean, 15 ballots -- that was also one of those moments where you had to say is this the leader for us? Is this a leader for the times? And I don't think he was.

So what we're seeing right now is yes, to many people, on its face, looking unproductive and like Washington isn't working. But I would say it's actually quite the opposite. Sometimes you have to see the system blow up.

And that brings me great pain because I'm a -- I'm a creature of habit. I love this building. I'm all about the procedures and I know what it takes to get things done here.

But when Americans have such great distrust and it makes its way to the highest perch, and you see the top Republican lose his job in such an embarrassing fashion, you have to wonder could this be the reset the Republicans need leading up to an incredible next many months that really give them what I think is the advantage to topple Biden-Harris?

HUNT: Well --

SHAH: We have that but we're fumbling the ball.

HUNT: I take your point. But, Matt, I have to bring you in here, too. The chaos you experienced as a candidate -- what chaos can do --


HUNT: -- to -- in a general election.

So, you know, I'm with you kind of but -- when we get to the Republican primary. But when they actually have to run against President Biden voters have shown repeatedly that the chaos is not something that they're interested in. And we're looking at a likely Biden-Trump rematch here.

You saw this evidence in the midterm elections. You saw it in -- again, just to remind our viewers, you ran in a critical swing district against a -- what I would argue is a MAGA-type candidate.


HUNT: Kevin McCarthy was on your side because he saw you as somebody he could work with. But you lost that primary and that district stayed in Democratic hands, right?

MOWERS: It did, and there's numerous districts across the country just like that.

HUNT: So how does this chaotic situation help Republicans at all?

MOWERS: Oh, it doesn't. I mean, and look, if you look at recent polling you would actually see that House Republicans have a significant advantage over Joe Biden right now from American voters when they're asked who do you trust to handle the economy. Who do you trust to handle the border? Who do you trust to actually decrease crime in our country right now?

Republicans in the House and Congress are actually leading Joe Biden on those issues right now. It's very rare that Congress leads a president in anything and yet we're seeing it right now --

HUNT: It's true.

MOWERS: -- in recent polling.

And so this is nothing more than a distraction from those issues.


And you'll notice that in the past few weeks, you are seeing Republicans, including Donald Trump, now actually creep up in the ballot against Joe Biden; sometimes even leading Joe Biden.

But moments like this are going to show dysfunction. It's not what the American people want. They rejected it in 2022 and unfortunately, they'll reject it in 2024 unless we get our act together.

HUNT: Akayla, the White House is watching this. What's -- I mean, what is the thinking behind this? I mean, I don't want to say anybody is watching this with glee.

I do take Debbie Dingell's point that this is a somber and historic moment for the country and a very difficult one that certainly doesn't project, especially if you think about the world stage, the kind of image that we as Americans should want.

Now, that said, from a starkly political perspective, the White House has kind of been handed a gift.

GARDNER: Yeah. I do think behind the scenes, although they're not showing publicly that they're necessarily gleeful or happy about this oust of Kevin McCarthy, but one of Biden's biggest pitches to America is this threat to democracy. And what better example than a vacant speakership for them to illustrate that?

And I think Democrats have really enjoyed over the last years showing this unification against this backdrop of really deep divisions in the Republican Party. He has been talking about that for months. We just saw him do a big speech on democracy in Arizona. So for him, this is just a way to illustrate that point and really drive that home for voters who care about democracy.

HUNT: All right, stay with us here. We are live on Capitol Hill.

Up next, who are these hardliners who voted to oust the speaker? And what will the GOP Conference do next? Don't go anywhere.



REP. AUSTIN SCOTT (R-GA): I think Kevin recognizes that nobody can meet their demands and the conference is going to have to figure out how we -- how we deal with eight people that are here that candidly aren't interested in governing.


HUNT: We are back here live on Capitol Hill. That, of course, the big question this morning after Kevin McCarthy was ejected from his job as speaker. How does the next speaker deal with the eight right-wing hardliners who just got rid of Kevin McCarthy?

Let's bring back our panel -- Rina Shah, Maria Cardona, Matt Mowers, Akayla Gardner.

And, Rina, I think this one -- I'm going to start with you because this is the challenge. This is why -- I mean, we talked a little bit about how, obviously, there are people who want this job. It's a job with a lot of power in Washington even at its weakest, right, and Kevin McCarthy was a pretty weak speaker. But it is a very, very difficult one with no promise of being able to do it long-term.


How does a Steve Scalise or a Kevin Hern, or any one of these names of people who might be the next speaker deal with these hardliners differently than McCarthy did?

SHAH: Inevitably, they are going to have to make concessions. But looking at that group of eight, I see Congresswoman Nancy Mace from South Carolina stand out. She's been dubbed a moderate by many. Why did she want this? And she, on X last night, said -- yesterday -- that it was about trust. So that right there is it.

Instill trust in your caucus. Bring them together in a manner that gives them hope. Cast a more positive vision for what Republicans can do. Talk about kitchen table issues again. Do not go for the culture wars.

And look, that's me on a personal level.

HUNT: But are any of those hardliners going to go along with that? I mean, it's --

SHAH: I think they do because if you heard them until the end, it was about spending to them. It was about the fact that Congressmen and women no longer are able to do what they want to do because they have to kiss the ring of an almighty speaker that dictates exactly what not just the conference is going to say or do that day but how hard they fall in line. And that's now how this thing ought to be done.

So I think, again, you've got to look back at the trust issues within this caucus. You've got to look at what the caucus really wants to talk about. And it is those issues that Republicans could reign supreme on that are economy, crime, public safety. And let's not forget the issue of nation-building abroad when we really need to be getting our own house in order.

CARDONA: Here's the problem. That what you have right now is a Republican Caucus (sic) in chaos because -- and it's not just these eight. Let's remember -- I think people forget --

HUNT: The Republican Conference, Democratic Caucus. Sorry to nitpick -- continue.

CARDONA: Right. No, that's right. That is correct.

Let's not forget there are 139 members in the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives that voted to not certify the elections in 2020, OK? That is not a normal thing. So we are dealing with a lot of people who don't believe in real democracy, to Akayla's point.

But for these eight that ousted McCarthy, they are completely against any kind of compromise. Compromise for them and probably for others in the Republican Conference is a bad word. You cannot get anything done in today's divided country if you don't compromise and are willing to work with the other side.

MOWERS: I think you've got to look at these eight -- you now, if you listen to the eight members who voted to vacate -- the eight Republicans -- they all had their own reasons, right? Matt Gaetz gave his own reason. Nancy Mace had a totally separate reason that she gave. You had Tim Burchett who had a very personal reason for it.

HUNT: Yeah.

MOWERS: So I think it's tough to lump in these eight as one cohort. They all have their own set of relationships with each of the individuals who is going to look to run for speaker. They all have good relationships with everyone from Tom Emmer to Steve Scalise, to Kevin Hern, and even Jim Jordan.

So I think it's tough to say that just because these eight supported removing Kevin McCarthy that they're going to have a similar line of thinking going into the next Congress. A lot of it was personal for them.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean -- I mean, it's very clear much of it was very personal. But, I mean, Akayla, I just -- I keep going back to the previous two Republican speakers that I covered.

I mean, I remember waking up one day and we all of a sudden realized -- you know, word traveled fast through these halls that Speaker Boehner was going to just up and leave, which we were all extraordinarily surprised by. Then, of course, Paul Ryan, who announced hey -- you know what? I don't want to do this anymore.

This one was obviously involuntary. I just -- I fail to see, even though we're focused on these eight hardliners, how this bigger problem is going anywhere for Republicans in the House.

GARDNER: Another name we haven't mentioned -- Donald Trump is also being floated for speaker.

HUNT: Probably unrealistic but it does say a lot about the climate.

GARDNER: Absolutely. I don't think he's actually going to take the job even though he says he's open to it. He's obviously dealing with a lot of legal challenges. He's traveling around the country running for president.

But I think Trump is the elephant in the room even though he is not here. He has divided this party for cycle after cycle since 2018 because of people who are extremely loyal to him and more moderate members.

The White House is definitely exploiting that. That's why they're using this MAGA term to tie certain Republicans to his brand. They feel like that is going to eventually play in their favor.

HUNT: Well, I mean -- and I do think -- you know, we probably actually haven't even talked about Trump enough here on the set this morning because it does really hang over everything that's being done here, Matt Mowers. And, I mean, you're going to have to have the final word here because we've got to go in just a second.

But it does seem like he has given out this chaos playbook and shown what it means to become famous instead of to be somebody who is legislating. And if you saw Matt Gaetz with all those cameras on the steps --

What does that mean for, ultimately, meaning that our country is governable?

MOWERS: It means that voters need to show up and elect people who actually want to do the job of being in Congress and not just getting on TV every day.


And let's not forget Matt Gaetz considered dropping out of Congress to become a contributor on another network just about a year ago.

HUNT: I almost forgot about that.

MOWERS: Another one of the right has openly said that he's actually discussing becoming a contributor to leave Congress.

So you've got members of Congress who would rather leave that building and be here right now than actually go in there and do their job every day. As a party, we have to actually start putting people there who actually want to show up to work and work on behalf of the American people every day.

HUNT: No, it's a -- it's a good point.

All right. Rina Shah, Maria Cardona, Matt Mowers, Akayla Gardner, I'm very grateful to all of you for being here this morning.

I think we just need to underscore what a historic day it is here. There is no Speaker of the House.

Coming up, history on Capitol Hill. The speaker, Kevin McCarthy, voted out for the first time ever. How did Kevin McCarthy lose his job, who could replace him, and how will government function in the meantime? We're going to have more live CNN coverage from right here on Capitol Hill coming up next.