A group of Republican lawmakers who previously served in the military on Wednesday decried the recent chaotic start to the new session of Congress as potentially damaging to national security and veterans’ welfare, and urged their conservative colleagues to find a political solution immediately.
“Right now, Rep. Don Bacon and I were supposed to be meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to talk about matters in the Indo-Pacific,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc. and a Marine Corps veteran, at the hastily arranged press conference. “But I’m informed by House security, that technically, I don’t have a clearance … to conduct that essential business.
“It’s up to this Congress to restore deterrence, to restore peace, through strength. But we aren’t able to do that vital work until we actually get past the speaker vote, populate our committees and start getting to work.”
All House business has been stalled for two days as lawmakers in the chamber fight over who should serve as the next Speaker of the House. No other work — including swearing in of the representatives — can take place until the leadership question is settled.
Just moments before the press conference, California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy failed in his sixth bid in the last two days to get a majority of votes for the leadership post. Despite Republicans holding a majority in the chamber, a group of 20 conservative lawmakers have failed to back McCarthy’s candidacy, leading to the ongoing impasse.
Elected officials at the Wednesday press conference — all of whom are supporters of McCarthy — said the ongoing internal political strife is not just embarrassing for their party, but also harmful to the country.
“We cannot do our jobs to ensure veterans are getting the care and benefit that they are due,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., a Marine Corps veteran and the lawmaker in line to lead the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this session.
“Without a speaker, our committee can’t conduct vital important oversight of the implementation of [toxic exposure benefits legislation] which we passed last year. We must be watching closely to make sure veterans are getting the care and benefits they deserve, and holding hearings on mental health impacts of the failed Afghanistan withdrawal.”
The group of 15 veterans at the press event make up just a fraction of the 62 elected Republican House members with military experience set to serve in the 118th Congress. On the other side, six of the 20 Republicans opposing McCarthy are also veterans.
Both sides insist strong leadership is needed to counter leaders of the Democratic party, which they accused of weakening the military through insufficient budgets and allowing Veterans Affairs operations to become inefficient.
For their part, Democratic leaders in the House have said the internal Republican strife illustrates the disorganization and acrimony within the GOP. Eighteen of the Democratic lawmakers expected to be seated this session previously served in the military.
Lawmakers were expected to resume voting again late Wednesday evening. Neither group of conservatives appears ready to yield ground to the other.
Members of the Republican opposition said they are committed to blocking McCarthy’s path to the Speaker’s post. Veterans supporting McCarthy said they will stand by him as long as he remains a candidate.
“We want to get things done. That’s why the American public has sent us here,” said Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Fla. and a Navy veteran, at the press conference. “We’re wasting time and the public deserves better.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.