Who is interim House speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry and what can he do?
McCarthy’s ex-lieutenant will lead the House until a new speaker is chosen.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, the temporary speaker, doesn't have big plans for the House before a new speaker is named.
Republican leadership aides and lawmakers tell ABC News that the North Carolina Republican believes his power is limited -- and that he won't do anything besides presiding over a speaker election.
"Our understanding is that he is a temporary steward, and he has limited authority," Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., a leadership ally, told ABC's Mary Bruce.
Additionally, members have been told that, for the time being, they can't introduce new bills until a speaker is elected, according to sources briefed by GOP leadership.
But is there any wiggle room given the unprecedented situation? Some experts seem to think so.
McHenry is operating under a rule put in place after 9/11, and "it's never come into play. The first time it does, you have to work out the details," Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Government Affairs Institute, told ABC News.
He's "going to make choices that he sees as reasonable, and if nobody questions them, they will become ... precedents," Glassman said.
But what happens if the House doesn't name a new speaker in the next 40 days? Will Congress stumble into a government shutdown without taking any action?
McHenry could change his view, and say, 'We have to fund the government and put bills on the floor," Glassman said.
Any member could challenge that decision, forcing the House to take a simple majority vote on the issue.
"The very narrowest reading of the rule says that if McHenry is still acting as speaker pro tem in mid-November, he would not be able to move the House on to a spending bill to avoid a shutdown," said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
There's more reason to be concerned about a narrower interpretation, she said. "What if we were in the kind of scenario for which the rule was originally drafted? Would we actually want a speaker with limited powers/who could only drive the House towards the election of a new speaker? I'm not sure, and I worry that setting a precedent now could hamstring the House in a future crisis."
One sign that McHenry may be more willing to flex and test his "limited" powers: his move -- at McCarthy's urging -- to kick former House Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer out of their Capitol offices.
That action against the Democrats who used to run the House -- which cited the speaker's control over the Capitol Building -- was "not consistent with a very narrow view that his entire role is to preside over the election of a speaker," Glassman argued.
What do we know about Patrick McHenry?
A staunch ally of Kevin McCarthy and his former top lieutenant, McHenry vigorously defended his boss on the House floor ahead of the final vote Tuesday to remove McCarthy as speaker.
And he appeared unable to hide his anger a few minutes after McCarthy lost, when, presiding over the House is his new role, he emphatically hammered down the gavel as he declared a recess.
The House rule established after the 9/11 attacks required House speakers to designate representatives to preside over the chamber in emergencies. McHenry topped the confidential shortlist McCarthy submitted when he became speaker following 15 votes in January.
Sarah Binder, a government policy expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said McHenry opted out of a role in party leadership in past years.
House speaker "doesn't seem to be a position he sought out with any personal ambitions so far as we know," she said.
The diminutive McHenry, 47, has more often stood out on Capitol Hill more for his signature bow ties than a visible leadership role. But he has quietly been a prominent player in the Republican House -- beyond a stint as deputy majority whip in 2015.
McHenry was first elected to represent North Carolina's 10th Congressional District in 2004, the first of his ten terms in the House so far. He is a longtime member of the House Financial Services Committee, which he now chairs. He helped negotiate the debt deal between Republicans and the White House in May.
That same debt deal was a key source of hard-liners' frustrations as they successfully sought McCarthy's removal. It would likely be a hurdle as McHenry would need to overcome as he oversees his party's choice of a new speaker.
At the same time, Binder notes, when hard-liners forced GOP Speaker John Boehner to step down, Paul Ryan's colleagues prevailed upon him to take the job, despite his saying he didn't want it.
Leaving the House chamber Friday morning, McHenry shook his head no when asked if he will run for speaker.
--ABC News' Arthur Jones II contributed to this report.
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