What if the House can't elect a new Speaker?

“All that could be put on the back-burner because we can’t elect a speaker,” Rooney said by phone on Tuesday. Is it highly unlikely? Yes. But not impossible, Rooney insisted. “Don’t think it can’t happen. Whenever I think of what’s the worse-case scenario that can happen with this Congress, it’s not altogether wrong all the time,” he said. “Just try us.”

This nightmare scenario is one that Speaker John Boehner might actually have contemplated when he set the election for his replacement. When he announced his resignation last month, Boehner said it would become effective on October 30. On Monday, he set the floor vote for the day before, allowing for a last-minute change if the House failed to replace him. (A senior member of the Rules Committee, Representative Tom Cole, told reporters on Tuesday that if no one received enough votes on the 29th, Boehner would stay on until someone did.) Boehner also announced that he was pushing back the date of elections for the House’s other top leadership positions to November, meaning that Republicans would only vote to replace McCarthy as majority leader if he wins the floor election as speaker.

The parliamentary chess moves only underscore the chasm in the House GOP, which Chaffetz’s surprise move has only deepened. The media-friendly conservative, serving his fourth term in Congress and his first as chairman of the Oversight Committee, has offered himself as a kind of pre-emptive consensus candidate, ready to swoop in if and when McCarthy falls short of the needed 218.  But allies of McCarthy now insist that even if the hard-right members of the Freedom Caucus denied him the speakership, Chaffetz wouldn’t get it. “If Jason thinks this is going to make him speaker, I think he’s really miscalculated the feeling of the caucus,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, a McCarthy supporter, told me.