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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

What House Democrats are thinking about the speaker race

House Democrats have a pretty simple strategy for this week: watch and wait.

Yes, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has repeatedly expressed his desire for a “bipartisan governing coalition” in the House — through press releases, statements to reporters and even an op-ed.

But beyond those public calls for moderate Republicans to come their way, House Democratic leadership isn’t doing anything privately to make that happen.

Of course, top House Republicans would never go for the idea Jeffries is suggesting, and he knows that. But Jeffries really has one job right now — look like the reasonable adult in the room while Republicans continue to tear each other apart.

Whenever the House does convene to vote for a speaker, Democrats will again unite behind Jeffries. They renominated him privately in less than 10 minutes this week — even clapping for two minutes straight — with House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar jokingly “noting for Jake Sherman, if he’s listening,” according to members in the room.

But what if the House remains at a standstill for several days or into next week? We checked with senior Democratic lawmakers and aides on their strategy.

Here’s what we know: There haven’t been any high-level conversations among Democrats about a specific list of demands they would make in order to help a Republican somehow secure the speakership.

But the broad things senior Democrats are interested in seem pretty straightforward: raising the threshold for the motion to vacate; a real plan to fund the government beyond Nov. 17; and a promise to bring legislation to the floor providing aid to Israel and Ukraine.

“The blocking and tackling of government,” as one Democratic aide described it to us.

There are some dramatic proposals that rank-and-file Democrats have floated, such as empowering a more moderate coalition on the Rules Committee and allowing more Democratic-led bills to come up for a vote under suspension. Those are not happening.

Still, top Democrats told us Republicans have made clear their input is not “welcome nor needed,” so they’re staying quiet for now. We’ll see if that changes as the speaker saga drags on.

Relationship with Scalise: We also did a quick assessment of Democrats’ relationship with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Jeffries and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy developed a pretty cordial working relationship over the last nine months. Jeffries doesn’t have that with Scalise. Their relationship has been described to us as “polite but not extensive” according to Democratic sources.

When it comes to House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, Scalise’s current counterpart on the Democratic side, the two teams work well together on the day-to-day running of the House. And Scalise has a connection with Aguilar — the two square off during the annual congressional baseball game.

But the Louisiana Republican doesn’t have many close relationships with Democrats. His closest Democratic ally, former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), left Congress in 2021. Scalise has developed a friendship with fellow New Orleans Rep. Troy Carter (D), who replaced Richmond in Congress.

Yet maybe most importantly, Scalise is a “known quantity,” several Democrats told us. While they don’t agree with Scalise’s politics — to say the least — knowing what you’re getting goes really far in a House that has been dominated by chaos in recent months. Especially when the other option right now is a conservative firebrand like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), they said.

— Heather Caygle

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