The race to fill the void left by the ousted Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, has intensified, highlighting the challenge of unifying the chaotic party’s factions. McCarthy’s removal was orchestrated by the far-right, throwing efforts to avert a looming government shutdown into turmoil and raising questions about US aid to wartorn Ukraine and Congress’ ability to respond swiftly to crises like the Israel attack.
Representative Matt Gaetz, a key player in McCarthy’s removal, explained on NBC’s Meet the Press that McCarthy was ousted because he made contradictory promises to people from both parties that couldn’t be reconciled. House Republicans are preparing for more disarray as they host a “candidate forum” to select their new standard-bearer, followed by a closed-door vote.
The chosen Speaker must gain approval from the full House, involving votes from both Democrats and Republicans, but there is no fixed timeline for a floor vote, leaving the lower chamber in limbo. Republican Senator John Kennedy offered some advice, urging his House colleagues to “follow your heart, but take your brain with you” and humorously suggested they “be sure to take your meds.”
While two declared candidates, Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, have been actively seeking support, a clear frontrunner has yet to emerge. Jordan secured the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who expressed willingness to serve as a caretaker speaker for a short-term period. However, this option isn’t viewed as serious, and there has been limited Republican support for Trump to take on the role due to his multiple criminal prosecutions and the rule that bars indicted suspected felons from leadership positions.
Trump’s endorsement of Jordan appeared to signal his non-involvement, though he has not publicly canceled plans to visit Capitol Hill. Under House rules, the speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the chamber. Trump mentioned the possibility of a “30, 60, or 90-day period” in the role. Nevertheless, a change in Republican-drafted rules would be required to make this happen.
To secure the speakership, any hopeful will need 217 votes. With the House consisting of 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats committed to voting for their own leader, Hakeem Jeffries, the race remains competitive. Jordan, a far-right populist, emphasized his priority to establish language preventing funds from being used for processing or releasing new migrants into the country. However, his hesitance regarding providing more aid to Ukraine might alienate centrists.
Despite the squabble over the speakership, Gaetz asserted that it wouldn’t impede America’s ability to support Israel in the wake of the Gaza attacks. He emphasized that there were no unmet requests from Israel just because it would take some time to choose a new speaker.
Nonetheless, the House’s leadership crisis and the Senate’s recess for another week are causing concern about meeting the November 17 deadline for passing a 2024 budget to prevent a government shutdown. Many anticipate that Congress will have to pass another stopgap funding measure to maintain federal agencies at 2023 spending levels, mirroring the compromise on September 30 that led to McCarthy’s removal by Republican right-wingers. This ongoing turmoil underscores the challenges of maintaining stability and unity within the Republican party.