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Republican House freshman Mike Lawler on Speaker stalemate

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In vote after vote this week, Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy has failed to secure the House speakership. The Californian is cutting deals with members of his own party who oppose him, but he hasn't yet been able to sway them. That means basically all House business is at a standstill, and brand-new lawmakers have yet to be sworn in. This year we're following a couple of incoming freshmen as they get their footing on the Hill, and one of them, Republican Congressman-elect Mike Lawler of New York, joins us now. Welcome back, sir.

MIKE LAWLER: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So you, at this point, have voted repeatedly in support of Kevin McCarthy to be House speaker over the course of three days. And I just have to say I would imagine this is not quite how you imagined the start of your congressional career would look.

LAWLER: Well, not exactly. And it certainly, you know, does not look very organized. But the bottom line is, you know, this is part of our democracy. People have their voices heard. They're elected to represent their constituents. And ultimately, though, we're going to have to come to a resolution. And I believe when all is said and done, Kevin McCarthy will have the votes to be the next speaker of the House. As I've said many times, whether it's the first vote, the fifth vote or the hundredth vote, I'm supporting Kevin McCarthy.

I believe he has earned that support. He had the overwhelming support of the conference in our November elections - 85%. And here on the floor, continually, he's had over 90% of the support of the conference. Obviously, we'd like the conference to be unified, and we'd like to get to a point where we can elect Kevin and then move forward and get about the business of governing, which is what we were elected to do. The American people elected us to be a check and balance on the Biden administration and ensure that one-party rule ended. And...

SUMMERS: Right.

LAWLER: You know, if we're going to do the work that we were elected to do, we need to elect a speaker first.

SUMMERS: So I've spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. I've covered Kevin McCarthy, and he is a member with a reputation of being personable, of trying to build relationships with members, including freshmen like yourself. What has he done? What has he said to you and other incoming Republicans to ensure that you support him as you do?

LAWLER: Well, it's not about what he's done to - or set and to, you know, kind of ensure my support. No. 1, he was extremely supportive during my election and came and campaigned for me. And I'm a big believer in loyalty. You stick with the one who brought you to the dance. And, you know, he worked tirelessly over the last four years to end one-party rule, to end Nancy Pelosi's reign as speaker, to flip the House from Democrat to Republican and to advance our agenda - the commitment to America. So, you know, ultimately, I believe he has earned the right to lead our conference and lead our House forward. And, you know, I think loyalty has got to matter for something in this business. You see often a lot of people are not, and a lot of people are focused on, you know, what is maybe best for themselves. But, you know, in this sense, he is looking out for the conference, and I believe he's the only one who can keep the conference together - all 222 of us - to advance our agenda.

SUMMERS: That said, as you pointed out, there is a small group - roughly two dozen or so, depending on which vote you look at - who have voted for other Republicans or voted present in some cases. Have you had any conversations with them, and do you have any sense of whether they plan to budge or what it would take for them to support McCarthy as you do?

LAWLER: Look. I think, you know, obviously there are a lot of concerns that have been raised by those 20 or so individuals. Kevin has negotiated in good faith to address their concerns, whether it's on the rules or the budget process. I and many of my colleagues have spoken to them directly one on one, in groups. And I think we are making progress. I think there are continuing conversations ongoing while, you know, we're on the floor voting. But the conversations within the last 24 hours, I think, have been very productive and advanced the ball forward. So, you know, whether it's today, tomorrow or shortly thereafter, I'm confident when all is said and done, Kevin McCarthy will be the next speaker of the House.

SUMMERS: We've got just about a minute left. So I just want to end with this. Without a speaker, the House cannot swear in members like yourself. But there's also other things that are held up here. The business of the House can't happen. There have been no rules adopted to govern how the House works. No bills can be passed. No resolutions can be adopted. You all - bluntly, you're stuck until the speaker is elected. Does that concern you, and does that concern you what this shows to the country?

LAWLER: Look. I think it's obviously disappointing and not the way that any of us would have liked to start the 118th conference - Congress. But at the end of the day, you know, we will get this done. We will elect Kevin McCarthy as our next speaker. And we will get about the work that we set out to do, which is being a check and balance on the Biden administration, reining in wasteful government spending, securing our southern border, increasing domestic production of energy. These are issues that unify the Republican conference and we will move forward on in short order. So, you know, obviously, you know, government and sausage-making can be messy at times. But, you know, we will advance forward as a united conference and get about the work of the people in quick order.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with Republican Congressman-elect Mike Lawler of New York. Thank you so much for your time.

LAWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.
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