Republicans in the US House of Representatives began the search for a new leader Monday as the crisis in Israel injected fresh urgency into their struggle to heal the party’s bitter internal divisions.
Kevin McCarthy was dismissed as House speaker in a stunning mutiny last week orchestrated by the far right, leaving efforts to avert a looming government shutdown in a tailspin.
The ouster also raised serious questions over the future of US military aid to Ukraine and, more immediately, over Congress’ ability to respond quickly to a crisis like the weekend attack on Israel by Hamas militants.
Bracing for more of the disarray that marked McCarthy’s exit, House Republicans are due to hold a meeting Monday and a “candidate forum” Tuesday to pick their new standard-bearer, followed by a vote behind closed doors Wednesday.
The speaker must be approved by a majority of the 433-member full House, however — with both Democrats and Republicans voting — and there is no timeline for a floor vote, leaving the lower chamber in limbo.
Two declared candidates — McCarthy’s longtime deputy Steve Scalise and firebrand Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan — have been furiously working to lock in support, but a clear frontrunner is yet to emerge.
And the attack by Hamas that left at least 700 Israelis dead has prompted speculation about whether a leaderless Congress is able to react to an emergency.
If neither Jordan nor Scalise can get the support of 217 Republicans, the lower chamber could temporarily approve full speaker powers for Patrick McHenry, who has the job on a caretaker basis but is so far restricted to ceremonial duties.
Some lawmakers want to reelect McCarthy, who did not rule out returning to the post during a lengthy news conference on Monday.
– ‘I’m not a candidate’ –
“That’s a decision by the conference, I’ll allow the conference to make whatever decision,” McCarthy said, deflecting further questions about whom he would support if it wasn’t him.
However, none of the eight conservative lawmakers who joined Democrats to oust McCarthy last week has indicated that they would reconsider their objections to his leadership.
And many of McCarthy’s closest allies have already pledged support for Scalise or Jordan.
“No, I’m not a candidate,” McCarthy told NBC later, adding: “Whoever the conference picks, I’m going to support.”
Jordan’s quest to secure the gavel won the coveted endorsement of former president and 2024 election candidate Donald Trump, who added to the sense of chaos surrounding proceedings by saying he’d be open to a short-term role as caretaker speaker as the race plays out.
His offer is not seen as a serious possibility, however, and there has been no broad show of support from Republicans for the ex-reality TV star — who is facing multiple criminal prosecutions — to take the helm.
There would have to be a change in the Republican-drafted rules in any case, as anyone indicted for a felony is barred from leadership positions.
Jordan, a far-right populist, told Fox News his priority would be codifying language that says “no money can be used to process or release into this country any new migrants.”
But his reticence over sending Ukraine more aid could hurt him with centrists, analysts say.
With the House paralyzed by the leadership drama and the Senate in recess for another week, the November 17 deadline for passing a 2024 budget to avoid the government shutting down is beginning to worry lawmakers.