Republicans are confronting a deepening leadership crisis that has left the House paralyzed with no clear path to elect a new speaker, after an effort to replace Kevin McCarthy following his historic ouster was derailed by entrenched opposition and deep divisions within the party.
By failing to coalesce behind a candidate, Republicans have plunged the House into uncharted territory and effectively frozen the chamber at a time when major international and domestic crises loom, from Israel’s war against Hamas to a potential government shutdown in mid-November.
As House Republicans struggle to govern, the party suffered another black eye Thursday evening when Majority Leader Steve Scalise abruptly withdrew from the speaker’s race amid hardened opposition from more than a dozen holdouts. The problem for the House GOP is that it’s not clear anyone can lock down the 217 votes needed to win the gavel, raising questions over how and when the standoff over the speakership will last and at what cost.
All eyes are on Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Scalise for the speaker nomination earlier this week. Jordan, the chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday evening he would wait until Friday out of respect for Scalise to announce whether he will launch another bid for speaker.
Jordan has been meeting and having calls with holdouts as he attempts to lock down the 217 votes he will need to secure the gavel, according to a GOP aide.
But there are already signs Jordan will encounter resistance to his bid as several lawmakers have said they would not vote for him. It’s unclear if Jordan will have any better chance at success than Scalise, who narrowly beat him in an initial House GOP closed-door election to nominate a speaker candidate.
Tensions are boiling over among House Republicans frustrated at the impasse and concerned over the path forward.
Republican Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri told reporters after Scalise’s exit from the race Thursday evening that one lawmaker had remarked: “‘You know, you could put Jesus Christ up for speaker of the House and he still wouldn’t get 217.’”
But Republicans are not unified behind Jordan and on the heels of Scalise withdrawing from the race several were already expressing concern over a potential Jordan run or outright opposition.
Rep. Don Bacon, when asked whether he is a “no” on Jordan, told CNN’s Manu Raju that he’s “chewing on it right now” and said many Republicans are reluctant to reward what they see as “bad behavior” by giving in to what a small group of holdouts have been pushing for, though he said that’s not Jordan’s fault.
“We had five individuals today who said they would only vote for Jim and not Steve. So many of us feel it’s rewarding bad behavior if we do that. The problem for me though is it’s not Jim’s fault so I’m just grappling with that,” he said. “There’s a great quote … if you give a 5-year-old who is misbehaving terribly more ice cream, they will be worse behaving, right? That’s what’s going to happen here if we reward that behavior. So a lot of us are resistant to that.”
Scalise’s exit from the race and McCarthy’s historic removal as speaker have put a spotlight on the power of a small faction of conservatives to sideline the agenda of a majority of the conference. House Republicans control just a razor-thin majority and a speaker candidate can only afford to lose four defections and still win.
Rep. Austin Scott told Raju the GOP’s inability to elect a new speaker driven by small group of holdouts “makes us look like a bunch of idiots.”
“We’ve got a very small group of people that they have to have everything their way. We had a group that sabotaged Speaker McCarthy and now we’ve had a group that sabotaged Steve Scalise, both of them great people,” he said.
McHenry remains interim speaker
Before Scalise withdrew, Republicans were already considering whether they should try to expand the powers of interim Speaker Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, so the House can pass legislation, like a resolution for Israel, multiple lawmakers told CNN.
“That is an option that we could pursue,” GOP Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told reporters.
A group of more centrist Republicans are circulating a letter asserting that McHenry should have more temporary power, sources told CNN – a sign of desperation as the GOP scrambles to coalesce around a speaker.
Attempting to expand the powers of the interim speaker, a role that is extremely limited, would put House Republicans in untested legal territory though and could be complicated to pull off, and some in the party have already pushed back on the idea.
“I’m not willing to look at that at all,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida.
This story has been updated with additional developments.