The US House of Representatives began a third week of paralysis Monday as Republicans struggled to unite behind a leader to end a bitter civil war that has stalled their domestic agenda and thwarted action on the Israel crisis.
The lower chamber of Congress has been at a standstill since Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted by his own party on October 3, stripping lawmakers of the ability to bring legislation to the floor.
Jim Jordan, the 59-year-old chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee who is backed by Donald Trump, has voiced confidence that he can get the 217 votes required to secure the speakership in a vote expected on Tuesday.
But his narrow win in the House Republican conference’s internal speaker election Friday over a lawmaker with almost no public profile raised questions over whether he has the support to win that vote.
Jordan spent the weekend trying to move colleagues into his column but there is still a sizeable group said to be opposed to his candidacy.
“The principles that unite us as Republicans are far greater than the disagreements that divide us. And the differences between us and our Democrat colleagues vastly outweigh our internal divisions,” he said Monday in a letter to colleagues.
“The country and our conference cannot afford us attacking each other right now. It is time we unite to get back to work on behalf of the American people.”
Republicans have a razor-thin majority in the House, meaning nearly all of their lawmakers have to coalesce behind their nominee in the election for that candidate to stand any chance of winning the gavel.
Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, the Republican second-in-command, beat Jordan narrowly for the nomination last week before abruptly dropping out when it became clear he wouldn’t win a floor vote.
That created bad blood between the Jordan camp and Scalise supporters upset by their candidate not getting the full-throated backing of the entire party after winning the nomination.
Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw told CNN it would be “really, really difficult” for Jordan to get to 217 votes.
– ‘Really difficult’ –
A second public tussle for the speakership — just nine months after McCarthy’s marathon, 15-round battle to win the gavel — could hardly have come at a worse time.
The leaderless House has been unable to pass any bills or approve White House requests for emergency aid, with Israel — the top US ally in the Middle East — at war with Hamas militants.
Meanwhile lawmakers are staring down a looming government shutdown as they have only a month to agree on 2024 federal spending levels before the money runs out.
Jordan was boosted by three vocal opponents announcing Monday they had reconsidered their objections after being reassured by the former wrestling coach from Ohio.
“After having a conversation with Jim Jordan about how we must get the House back on a path to achieve our national security and appropriations goals, I will be supporting him for speaker on the floor,” said California’s Ken Calvert.
But US media reported that at least 10 mainstream Republicans have determined to vote against Jordan for as long as it takes to ensure he never wins the gavel.
If Jordan’s bid founders, Louisiana’s Mike Johnson, the vice chairman of the conference, and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer have both been suggested as alternatives.
But some Republicans believe no candidate would be able to get the required votes and that a power-sharing agreement with Democrats might be necessary.
The party of President Joe Biden would demand heavy concessions, however, to support a Republican speaker.