Republicans looked set to move on from hardline conservative Jim Jordan in their search for a new US House speaker Thursday, as lawmakers mulled appointing a temporary leader to steer them out of a civil war engulfing the party.
President Joe Biden has announced plans to ask Congress this week for “unprecedented” aid to help Israel in its conflict with Hamas militants, understood to be part of a proposed $100 billion package that will also provide funding for Ukraine and Taiwan.
But lawmakers have been bogged down in infighting that has already claimed the job of one speaker and has shut down the lower chamber of Congress for more than two weeks, preventing action on the international and domestic crises demanding their attention.
Jordan — a Donald Trump loyalist heavily implicated in the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election — suffered humiliating defeats on the House floor in his first two bids for the gavel.
The official line from the Ohio congressman was that he planned to plough ahead with a third vote, but multiple US media outlets reported that he has put the brakes on his speakership bid after acknowledging that he would continue to hemorrhage votes.
Jordan will instead throw his support behind a move to invest placeholder speaker Patrick McHenry, who currently is limited to ceremonial duties, with the full authority of the office until the end of the year.
The crisis has been playing out against the tumultuous background of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Ukraine fending off a Russian invasion in its 21st month, and as the US government prepares to shut down in less than a month unless new funding is approved by Congress.
– Intimidation –
Electing McHenry “speaker pro tem” appears to have enough support from the center of both parties and would allow him to bring measures providing aid to Israel and possibly Ukraine to the floor, as well as addressing the budget.
But Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries would likely extract major concessions — perhaps even a power-sharing agreement — to help out Republicans. And McHenry himself has made clear that he is reluctant to take on more authority.
Chip Roy, a leading figure in the House Freedom Caucus and a barometer of hard right opinion, called the proposal a “violation of tradition and norms.”
Jordan has spent his 16-year career in Congress blocking legislation rather than passing it — he has never authored a bill that made it into law — agitating for government shutdowns and dragging his party further to the right.
Mainstream House Republicans, many in vulnerable districts that voted for Biden in the last election, have chafed at the former champion wrestler’s combative politics.
Several have complained about being targeted by intimidation tactics after voting against Jordan.
Iowa Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks said in a statement she had “received credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls.”
“The proper authorities have been notified and my office is cooperating fully. One thing I cannot stomach, or support is a bully,” she said.
The crisis has demonstrated, however, that Jordan-backer Trump and his far right supporters do not have the stranglehold over the House that they once appeared to exert.
Kevin McCarthy, whose historic removal as speaker by the far right triggered the crisis on October 3, argued to reporters on Wednesday that McHenry already has full speaker powers and can act unilaterally.
He was backed by former Republican congressional aide Brendan Buck, who argued in a New York Times op-ed that unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
“The House’s rules, functionally, are whatever a simple majority say they are,” he wrote.