House Republicans know where they want to lead the country, even if they don’t know who their leader will be.
As Washington was captivated by Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s struggles to become House speaker, lawmakers were chafing to get on with the business of passing bills and teed up a dynamic list of targets, including abortion, border security and China policy.
First up is a bill to claw back tens of billions of dollars from the IRS by reversing part of Democrats’ climate spending legislation from the summer.
Republicans then want to puncture the “defund the police” movement, require the FBI to rat out illegal immigrants who try to buy guns and grant legal protections to any infant born alive — including after botched abortions.
Only Republicans haven’t figured out who will lead them through the process.
Mr. McCarthy, of California, came up short in the first three votes for speaker, with 20 Republicans voting for someone else on the third ballot.
The chamber is in limbo until he or another person emerges victorious.
“I think that’s kind of the irony of this,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican. “I think we’re going to go in the same direction no matter how this plays out. We as a caucus are committed to just the general direction of the ‘Commitment to America’ plan, so I see that staying true no matter what happens.”
The delay means lawmakers eager to get moving on investigations of the Biden administration are stuck in neutral.
Chief among those are Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, slated to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and James Comer of Kentucky, who will ascend to chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Both have sent a slew of document demands to the Biden administration in the past two years, but the White House said last month that everything must be resubmitted in the new Congress.
“The Biden administration said they trashed my letters, and I can’t resend my letters until we’re sworn in, and we can’t be sworn in until we have a speaker,” Mr. Comer said.
Mr. Biden is also the target of much of Republicans’ planned floor action — once the chamber is up and running.
The first bill would cut off all unspent IRS money allocated under last year’s budget reconciliation bill. Republicans say they fear the agency will hire tens of thousands more auditors and put average Americans through the wringer.
Another bill would require the Justice Department to report how many cases it refuses to prosecute.
Other measures would constrain the Biden administration from tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and prevent sales from the reserve to China.
One resolution would put the House on record in support of law enforcement and against efforts to “defund” the police.
Republicans plan action on “born alive” legislation declaring that infants who survive botched abortions must get the same care as any other newborn.
Republicans also have a host of plans for immigration. One bill would create a permanent authority similar to Title 42, a pandemic-era health policy that allowed illegal immigrants to be expelled at the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Another bill would require the federal background check system to report illegal immigrants who try to buy firearms.
“These commonsense measures will address challenges facing hardworking families on issues ranging from energy, inflation, border security, life, taxpayer protection, and more,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who, as the majority leader in the House, controls which bills reach the floor.
It’s a much faster pace than the last time Republicans faced this situation. In 2011, they captured control of the House but left the White House and Senate in Democrats’ hands.
After a quick vote to repeal Obamacare, the chamber took a long pause to gather itself.
In 2019, when Democrats retook the House while leaving the Senate and White House in Republican hands, they dealt with an impasse on yearlong spending legislation. They followed up with a series of bipartisan bills on small-business investment, combating antisemitism and a host of other issues.
• Kerry Picket contributed to this story.