Speaker fight delays swearing-in of Michigan's 3 new House members

Michigan was set to get three new members of the U.S. House as the new Congress convened for the first time Tuesday, but their swearing in was delayed after the vote for speaker cycled through three ballots without a winner, and the chamber adjourned until Wednesday.

While the deadlocked speaker vote delayed the swearing-in ceremony, the new members welcomed family and supporters to their new offices on Capitol Hill to celebrate the day. Each will make history in their own way when sworn into office.

Rep.-elect Shri Thanedar, a Detroit Democrat, will be the first Indian American to represent Michigan in Congress. Rep.-elect John James of Farmington Hills will be the first Black Republican from Michigan to serve in the U.S. House. And Rep.-elect Hillary Scholten will be the first woman ever and the first Democrat since the 1970s to represent the Grand Rapids area.

"It's a beautiful day. The future is bright in West Michigan. I have to remind myself that we're in the minority because there is such a hopeful, optimistic feel among Democrats. We're organized, we're unified, and we have one of the most diverse freshman classes in history," Scholten told The Detroit News.

"For those of us who raised our hands to run in the wake of Jan. 6th, knowing what we were getting into, there's this real sense of stepping up to serve at a critical time in our democracy. We're ready to rise to that challenge today."

Both Scholten and Thanedar started Tuesday with a Bipartisan Prayer Breakfast at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. She then picked up her green and gold lapel pin designating her as a member of the 118th Congress before heading with her family to a reception at the U.S. Capitol.

Her two sons, Wesley and James Scholten-Holcomb, ages 10 and 13, said they were looking forward to joining their mother on the House floor later in the day.

James, also accompanied by two of his young sons in suits and ties, brought them onto the House floor for the quorum call. They chatted with other members of the Michigan GOP delegation, all sitting in the same row, and the younger one sat on James' lap as the proceedings began. 

James' friends and family had gathered in his new office earlier Tuesday, along with a handful of longtime supporters, according to his office. His father, who put his pin on James when he graduated from Army Ranger school, put the new congressional pin on James outside his office door on Capitol Hill. 

"He's just excited to get past the procedural stuff and get to work," James spokeswoman Abby Mitch said. "The biggest thing for him was his kids seeing him get sworn in."

Thanedar's family also joined him in Washington for the occasion, including his two grandsons, 5-year-old Kai and 3-year-old A.J., who are in the capital city for the first time. The whole family, including his wife, Shashi, and sons Neil and Samir, toured the city's monuments Monday, he said.

"This is a big day, you know? What an unlikely situation for an immigrant who came here at the age of 24 to have the honor to represent an important city in America," said Thanedar, whose district covers the bulk of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes and Downriver communities.

As he prepared to take the oath of office, Thanedar said he was thinking about the late Rep. John Conyers Jr., who represented the Detroit area in Congress for 53 years and was the longest-serving Black member of Congress.

"I can't stop thinking about him and what he means to the district and standing on his shoulders and the work that he has done," Thanedar said.

He noted he had just spoken to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas who took over sponsorship of Conyers'  reparations bill after his 2017 resignation. Conyers had introduced the bill every term starting in 1989, and Thanedar said he intends to co-sponsor it.

Michigan GOP for McCarthy

The House convened at noon for a quorum call, followed by the start of the speaker vote. House Republicans had nominated California's Kevin McCarthy for the role, but on the first, second and third ballots he fell short of the 218 votes needed to win, as he strained to win over conservatives largely seeking rule changes.

It was the first time since 1923 that the speaker vote headed for multiple ballots. 

Twenty Republicans voted for someone other than McCarthy on the third ballot, but Michigan's six House Republicans continued to vote for him, while the state's seven Democrats voted for Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York — the incoming Democratic leader. Around 5:30 p.m., the House voted to adjourn until noon Wednesday.

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, said he supports McCarthy, despite "crossing swords" with him at various times, including when McCarthy served as the House Republican whip.

"I respect the work that Kevin has put forward, even though I don't always agree with sort of the policy directions or some of his decisions," Huizenga said. "But this is the time where we need to come together with our best, strongest option. And I think Kevin is that."

After a closed-door meeting with colleagues Tuesday morning, Huizenga said those opposed to McCarthy didn't seem open to changing their minds — either because they don't believe that he will be fiscally responsible and fight for budget cuts, or because they "just don't like him."

"I'm not sure what what happens, other than staying on the floor and trying to grind this out and come to some consensus," Huizenga said.

"People will have to have some self-reflection about whether they want the day to go like this. If this were to be our first step forward, I think we look like we're in disarray. I don't think this is a good look for the Republican majority at all."

Rep. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township, a member of the House GOP leadership, said the speaker debate is a good thing and that she's hopeful, noting that McCarthy won more than 85% of the House GOP Conference, so, essentially, "he won the primary" election.

"We've watched the past two years of dictatorial leadership by Nancy Pelosi, where nothing is debated, nothing is discussed," McClain said on the PBS NewsHour on Tuesday night. "Now, what you see is you see democracy working. Debate is healthy, debate is good. Disagreement is not disloyalty."

Asked whether there's a House Republican who can get to 218 by Wednesday afternoon, McClain said that is McCarthy's agenda, and that he's negotiating with the members who aren't supporting him and trying to figure out what will get them to a "yes."

"I'm hopeful that together we can negotiate to get to 218, so we can get back to what the American people actually want us to do, and that's to get this country back on track," McClain said.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said the new Congress could be a long two years, worrying that whoever ends up winning the GOP speaker race will be beholden to the "nuttiest fringe of their party" — eliminating the possibility of bipartisanship.

"The problems they're having today — no matter what the resolution is — don't end today. This is just a symptom of a dysfunctional political party," Kildee said.

"We, of course, had same margin in the last Congress — same problem in the sense that we have a lot of diversity of thought. But we did some big stuff," he added. "Their differences have to do with whether or not government should function. We have a good number of folks on the other side who believe chaos is the result that they're seeking."

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, also said former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had the same majority two years ago "and she managed to pull it off — and I say that as someone who did not vote for her."

"It's interesting, if you believe what you read, that they're focused on finally having a battle with the Freedom Caucus," she said, referring to the conservative wing of the GOP caucus. "I wish them well in that battle."

Detroit votes for Jeffries

Thanedar, a former state lawmaker, snapped a photo on his phone of House Democratic leadership after Rep. Pete Aguilar of California nominated Jeffries.

“Proudly from Detroit, Michigan, Hakeem Jeffries," Thanedar said when it was his turn to vote for speaker.

A few moments later, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, stood to cast her vote and spoke in unison with her younger son, Yousif: "All the way from DEE-troit, Hakeem Jeffries."

Former Michigan U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-Libertarian, again offered to step in as a nonpartisan speaker of the House of Representatives if neither party could come up with the votes to elect one. Speakers are not required to be members of the House. 

Amash put himself forward Tuesday morning as the conservative House Freedom Caucus’ “best viable option,” noting he co-founded the group and remains friends with many of its members.

“I’m not a current member of Congress, but I do know what’s at stake,” Amash tweeted. “I’d gladly serve as speaker of the House for one term to show people the kind of legislative body we can have if someone at the top actually cares about involving every representative in the work of legislating.”

Amash, a sharp McCarthy critic, has made suggestions for improving House procedures to make it more transparent and open and less like a top-down oligarchy: Letting committees work through bills "without interference"; ensuring rules are followed and not regularly suspended or waived; allowing amendments from the floor; and giving members enough time to review bills before having to vote on them.