Republican infighting leaves US House leaderless for a 10th day
PHOTO CAPTION: The chair of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives sits empty with gavel and freshly polished inkwells ready shortly before the transition from Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to new Republican Speaker John Boehner on the opening day of the 112th United States Congress, January 5, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young
By Moira Warburton and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans were struggling to find a way forward in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, with hardliner Jim Jordan saying he would again seek the gavel while some suggested the best option would be to empower a temporary custodian.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jordan, who lost in a closed-door party vote on Wednesday to Majority Leader Steve Scalise, told reporters he planned to continue his effort to win the speakership the day after Scalise abandoned his run.
But it was unclear whether Jordan could secure the 217 votes needed from the narrow and fractious 221-212 Republican majority in a vote of the full House.
That led some to suggest an alternative path: Expanding the powers of speaker pro tempore Patrick McHenry. Without a speaker, lawmakers are unable to introduce or vote on bills, as war expands in the Middle East, Russia continues to pound Ukraine and the government faces a Nov. 17 partial shutdown deadline without additional funding from Congress.
Tempers ran high after Scalise dropped out of the race to succeed Kevin McCarthy, who was forced out of the post on Oct. 3 by eight Republicans and the chamber's Democrats, just days after he cut a bipartisan deal to avoid a partial government shutdown.
"Members have got to get it through their heads that they're squandering a majority. They are squandering a majority. The American people deserve better than this," Representative Andy Barr told reporters after Scalise announced his withdrawal.
"We were elected for a reason, but we are reversing an election because we can't even find a speaker," he added. "That is not what the American people voted for in 2022."
Republicans were meeting behind closed doors to consider options for a new second secret ballot for speaker that could come later in the day.
Other possible candidates included McHenry, McCarthy and Representatives Kevin Hern and Tom Cole, lawmakers said.
Some lawmakers hope to revive a proposal requiring any candidate to secure 217 Republican votes to become the nominee. Scalise and his allies defeated that plan this week, angering Jordan supporters and stiffening their resistance to Scalise.
“We need to focus on the person that can get the votes and get the job done as quick as we can, get it done and move on,” Representative Roger Williams said on Friday. He said it was not clear how, adding that it was unclear how many of the House's 221 Republicans remained in Washington.
Another lawmaker suggested the long standoff meant it was time to increase McHenry's powers.
"If we can’t solve this today, we need to expand Patrick McHenry’s authority as speaker pro tem,” Representative Dan Meuser said. It was unclear how such a measure would pass or if a majority of the chamber would support the idea.
'REWARDING BAD BEHAVIOR'
Representative Don Bacon, a Republican centrist, said he and other lawmakers are withholding support for Jordan for now.
"I'm grappling with that," Bacon told reporters. "We had five individuals today who said they would only vote for Jim and not Steve. So, many of us ... feel that's rewarding bad behavior if we do that."
Bacon also said he would expect a Jordan bid for the nomination to face a challenger.
Republicans had been hoping to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing spectacle that occurred in January, when hardline conservatives forced McCarthy to endure 15 floor votes over four days before winning the gavel.
Scalise's withdrawal followed days of closed-door stalemate that prompted some Republicans to demand the election be taken to the House floor.
"The underlying problem is that we have increasingly a culture in this town that thinks if you don't get everything you want, you get to vote 'no.' That's no way to run government," Representative Dusty Johnson said.
Representative Greg Murphy suggested that Republicans could settle on a compromise candidate, perhaps Representative Patrick McHenry, who has served as acting speaker since McCarthy's ouster on Oct. 3.
The ongoing schism within Republican circles has also raised speculation about Republicans possibly reaching out to Democrats to support a consensus candidate.
While McCarthy was the first speaker in U.S. history ousted by a vote of the chamber, the last two Republicans to hold the job - John Boehner and Paul Ryan - also left under pressure from their right flanks.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Moria Warburton and Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis)