Who is Patrick McHenry, the possible next speaker of the House?

The North Carolina congressman is seen as a more palatable option for moderate Republicans.

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Update: Following a Republican Caucus meeting, the proposed plan to install Rep. Patrick McHenry as a temporary speaker has been abandoned.

If you haven’t heard of Rep. Patrick McHenry, the North Carolina Republican who is serving as speaker pro tempore of the House, that’s partly by design.

Although McHenry has been in office since 2005 and quickly made a name for himself as a reliably partisan TV guest, he then pivoted to a more traditional path to power, making friends among the party establishment.

Speaking to Yahoo News in 2019 about his earliest days in Congress, McHenry called himself the “classic young man in a hurry.”

“My first three years I did everything wrong you can do wrong as a member of Congress that is neither unethical nor illegal. I was going to be a warrior. ... Basically, I’m going to fight Democrats,” said McHenry, who was 29 when he first took office.

“Any [cable TV] request I would take. I would speak on the House floor, it didn’t matter what it was about. My first three years in Congress, I spoke more than I did the next eight.”

How he got here

Speaker pro tempore of the House Patrick McHenry
Speaker pro tempore of the House Patrick McHenry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

McHenry landed in this position due to a post-Sept. 11 continuance-of-government plan that required the speaker of the House to have a list of replacements ready in case the position became open.

When Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted on Oct. 3, McHenry was at the top of his list. Although McHenry immediately took over as the speaker pro tempore, he has had little actual power since then, beyond overseeing the election of the next speaker.

Explaining his decision to reporters on Thursday, McCarthy said, “I wanted somebody who had been committee chairs. I wanted somebody that wasn’t seeking the job because their role was to carry it out and put it. I wanted somebody that could work with all sides, and McHenry is ideal for all that.”

Republicans have been unable to settle on a choice to succeed McCarthy.

House Republicans first selected Rep. Steve Scalise for the job, but his nomination was quickly scuttled by more right-wing members of the caucus who wanted Rep. Jim Jordan. Then when Scalise withdrew and Jordan won the nomination, his path was blocked by moderates.

A political lifer

Rep. Jim Jordan, right, confers with Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry
Rep. Jim Jordan, right, confers with McHenry on Wednesday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A close McCarthy ally and relative moderate among GOP lawmakers, McHenry took over the gavel as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee earlier this year after two terms as its ranking member. However — unlike McCarthy, Scalise and Jordan — he was not one of the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Beyond the fact that voting against certification of legally submitted electors would violate the oath I took to our Constitution, I also have serious concerns about the precedent these actions could set were they to succeed,” he said at the time.

McHenry holds many conventional conservative opinions on social issues, but is still considered to be less of a culture warrior than more well-known Republican House members like Jordan or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

After working in President George W. Bush’s administration for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — the wife of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell — McHenry won a competitive primary in a heavily Republican district before his first election to Congress in 2004. A vast majority of his campaign support comes from corporate entities and other wealthy donors, including major Wall Street firms. He has also been friendly with the crypto industry.