WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Republican majority is stuck, one week after the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, with lawmakers unable to coalesce around a new leader in a stalemate that threatens to keep Congress partly shuttered indefinitely.
On Tuesday evening, two leading contenders for the gavel, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, were scheduled to address colleagues behind closed doors at a candidate forum, but they appeared to be splitting the vote.
McCarthy, meanwhile, was openly ready to reclaim the gavel he just lost, but was seen by many as a longshot option unlikely to win back the handful of hardliners who just ousted him.
“This has been going on for days. Members want to come together," Scalise said late Monday at the Capitol. "We’ve got to get back on track,"
House Republicans took the majority aspiring to operate as a team, and run government more business-like, but have drifted far from that goal. Just 10 months in power, the historic ouster of their House speaker — the first in U.S. history — and the prolonged infighting it has unleashed is undercutting the Republicans' ability to govern at a time of crisis at home and abroad.
Now as House Republicans push ahead toward snap elections Wednesday aimed at finding a new nominee for speaker, the hard-right flank coalition of lawmakers that ousted McCarthy has shown what an oversized role a few lawmakers can have in choosing the successor.
“This is a hard conference to lead,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., “A lot of free agents.”
Both Scalise and Jordan are working furiously to shore up support. Both are easily winning over dozens of supporters, but it's unclear if either can amass the 217 votes likely needed in a floor vote that could come as soon as Wednesday.
Both conservatives from the right flank, neither man is the heir apparent to McCarthy.
Scalise as the second-ranking Republican would be next in line for the gavel and is seen as a hero among colleagues for having survived severe injuries from a mass shooting during a congressional baseball practice in 2017. Now battling blood cancer, the Louisianan is not a clear lock.
Jordan is a high-profile political firebrand known for his close alliance with Trump, particularly when the then-president was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump has backed Jordan's bid for the gavel.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who engineered McCarthy's ouster said they would be willing to support either Scalise or Jordan.
“I think it’s a competitive race for speaker because we’ve got two greats,” said Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.
Barr said he was working to help secure votes for Scalise, but would be comfortable with either candidate.
Others though, particularly more centrist conservative Republicans from districts that are narrowly split between the parties, are holding out for another choice.
“Personally, I’m still with McCarthy," said Rep. David Valadao, a Republican who represents a California district not far from the former speaker's district.
“We’ll see how that plays out, but I do know a large percentage of the membership wants to be there with him as well.”
For the interim, Speaker Pro-Tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry is effectively in charge. He has shown little interest in expanding his power beyond the role he was assigned — an interim leader tasked with ensuring the election of the next speaker.
The role was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack to ensure the continuity of government. McHenry's name was at the top of a list submitted by McCarthy when he became speaker in January.
While some Republicans, and Democrats, are open to empowering McHenry the longer he holds the temporary position, that seems unlikely for now as the speaker's fight drags on.
McHenry told reporters it's “my goal” to keep to the schedule to have hold a House speaker election on Wednesday. He quickly gaveled the House in and out of a brief session on Tuesday, with no business conducted.