Ousted McCarthy positions himself as leader of riven GOP

“Whether I’m speaker or not… I can lead in any position I’m in.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have no clear choice for U.S. House Speaker, creating an unprecedented power vacuum in Congress and severely limiting America’s ability to respond quickly to the Israeli crisis — or any number of other domestic or international problems.

On Monday, the ousted former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, quickly stepped into the void, harshly criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration for the strength of its defense of Israel and positioning himself as the de facto Republican leader despite his colleagues’ ouster.

But it’s unclear whether McCarthy can make a serious comeback — or whether any of the other Republicans seeking the gavel, Steve Scalise or Jim Jordan, can be elected speaker as their majority disintegrates into infighting. Republicans in the House are scheduled to meet behind closed doors Monday evening in an attempt to reclaim control of their majority ahead of possible speaker votes this week.

“Whether I speak or not… McCarthy, R-Calif., said at the Capitol, “I can lead in any position I’m in.”

The turmoil in the House has put the United States Congress at a crossroads in a time of crisis, as it is the first time in history that it has booted a speaker from power, leaving the chamber without a constitutional officer second in line to the presidency. House business, and thus most congressional action, has ground to a halt.

It’s unclear what the Congress can accomplish with only an interim leader. Immediate aid to Israel is at risk, as is passage of a resolution expressing US support for Israel and condemnation of Hamas for the attack, as the region is now at war.

There are also broader demands on Congress, such as Ukraine’s requests for aid as it fights Russia, as well as the need to re-fund the US government by Nov. 17 or risk a federal shutdown. In the meantime, the Senate is on recess until next week.

“Does anyone have any votes?” “No,” said Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, a centrist Republican who has advocated for McCarthy’s reinstatement as speaker.

Republicans are planning a private meeting in the evening to assess the path forward following McCarthy’s historic ouster by a group of hardline Republicans led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. On social media, Gaetz stated that there are “two great men” running for speaker, implying that he could support either Scalise or Jordan.

However, neither Scalise, the majority leader and the second-ranking Republican in the House, nor Jordan, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a Trump supporter, appear to have the votes required to secure a majority vote.

Both Republicans who have been eyeing the speakership for some time bring political strengths, but also baggage that has colleagues divided and skeptical.

Scalise is battling blood cancer and is regarded as a hero among colleagues for surviving a mass shooting at a congressional baseball game practice in 2017. However, the Louisiana Republican apologized in 2014 after it was discovered that he addressed a white supremacist group founded by a former Ku Klux Klan leader in 2002. Scalise stated that he was unaware of the group’s racial views.

Jordan is a high-profile political firebrand known for his close relationship with Trump, particularly during the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which led to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Jordan and his office denied allegations from former wrestlers who accused him of knowing about claims they were inappropriately groped by an Ohio doctor while he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. Jordan and his office have both stated that they were unaware of any abuse.

“House Republicans need to unite and show the country that we’re fighting for them,” Jordan said on Fox News on Sunday.

The House Republicans have a slim majority and are considering rule changes to avoid another spectacle like the 15 rounds it took McCarthy to seize the gavel in January when Gaetz and others first blocked him at the start of the year.

While the position of Speaker is ultimately decided by the House, it is usually filled by a member of the House majority party.

One proposal is to require the candidate for House Speaker to obtain a 218-vote majority during internal voting behind closed doors before the Republicans call the vote on the House floor.

Another possibility is to change the rule that allows a single lawmaker to make a “motion to vacate” the office — a rare procedural tool that Gaetz used to force the snap vote that ousted McCarthy. Previously, the motion had to be made by more than one lawmaker.

But, as Republicans reel from the chaos that has thrown their majority into disarray, the evening meeting is expected to be long on infighting and short on solutions.

So far, Democrats have rejected both Scalise and Jordan, and they will almost certainly vote against both Republicans. McCarthy was removed with the help of Democrats, who expressed their disdain for the speaker and joined the handful of eight Republicans in removing him.

For the time being, no consensus candidate who can unite both parties appears to be within reach.

Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, has been named speaker pro-tempore, a position created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to ensure the continuity of government in Washington.

The rules governing the temporary speakership have never been tested, but they appear to indicate that the main power in the role is to ensure the election of a new speaker.

However, if House Republicans are unable to quickly agree on a speaker, McHenry may be in charge for some time.

Any actions McHenry takes in his temporary position have the potential to set a precedent for the House. Despite booting Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi from her private Capitol office, the North Carolina Republican is regarded as a serious legislator after nearly 20 years in office.

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