The second failed effort on Wednesday by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio to be elected House speaker added momentum to an idea that has been floated by lawmakers in both parties in recent days: Give Representative Patrick T. McHenry, the interim speaker, explicit power to conduct legislative business.
Mr. McHenry is acting as temporary speaker under rules adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that require the speaker of the House to come up with a list of people to fill the post in the event that it becomes vacant. When former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was booted out by a right-wing rebellion two weeks ago, the world learned that Mr. McHenry’s was the first name on his list.
Many House aides believe that Mr. McHenry’s power is strictly confined to presiding over the election of a new speaker, as he has been doing this week. But because this situation hasn’t come up before, some congressional scholars argue that the bounds of the acting speaker’s power are largely dependent on what a majority of members is willing to tolerate.
And as the turmoil around replacing Mr. McCarthy has continued, some members in both parties have been quietly discussing a way to explicitly grant Mr. McHenry permission to step in with full — or at least expanded — authority to run the House.
The talks have gained urgency as war has broken out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and lawmakers increasingly worry that the House will be unable to act on that crisis — or make any progress on a measure to fund the government and avoid a shutdown next month.
Representative David Joyce, Republican of Ohio, was circulating a bipartisan plan on Wednesday that would give Mr. McHenry the power to run the House floor through Jan. 3 — though the exact period of time was still up for discussion, according to lawmakers and aides familiar with the proposal who discussed it on the condition of anonymity.
Members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of center-leaning members from both parties, have also been involved in the talks, according to a lawmaker in the caucus.
Last week, four moderate Democrats led by Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a member of the group, sent a letter to Mr. McHenry saying that they would support giving him “expanded authorities” in 15-day increments that would allow him to bring specific legislation to the floor. The proposal, which was reviewed by The New York Times, would allow Mr. McHenry to bring up only certain legislation: for aid to Ukraine and Israel, a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown and 2024 spending bills.
Representative Mike Kelly, Republican of Pennsylvania, introduced a resolution on Monday that would force a vote on keeping Mr. McHenry in an empowered role until Nov. 17. That’s when the current stopgap spending measure expires, which would trigger a government shutdown unless Congress acts to extend it.
Some Republicans, particularly Mr. Jordan’s staunchest supporters, have resisted such a move because it would sap momentum for the party to unite behind him — or any other Republican.
“I violently oppose any effort to do that on the House floor,” said Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, calling the idea “directly contrary to the Constitution.”
Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, said he understood the frustration of his colleagues as Congress enters its third week without a speaker, but didn’t support such a resolution. He cautioned against setting a new precedent.
“In this town, once you unveil a side procedure, people tend to want to go back to that again and again and again,” he said. “That’s not the way this place is supposed to work.”
But other Republicans said turning to Mr. McHenry was beginning to look like the only path that made any sense.
Representative Nick LaLota, a New York Republican who opposed Mr. Jordan for a second time on Wednesday, told reporters that the latest failed vote “absolutely” served as evidence that the House should explore empowering Mr. McHenry.
Representative Carlos Giménez of Florida also voiced his support for a move by his party to give Mr. McHenry more power and “open the House and get business done.”
The top Democrat in the House — Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the leading vote-getter in both speaker votes thanks to his united caucus — said before Wednesday’s vote that “all options are on the table.”
He reiterated that House Democrats have two goals: preventing Mr. Jordan from obtaining the speakership and keeping the government running.
Annie Karni contributed reporting.