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Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Scalise and Jordan Announce Bids for Speaker as Vacancy Paralyzes the House

Scalise and Jordan Announce Bids for Speaker as Vacancy Paralyzes the House

“Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio are both running to succeed Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted as speaker.

Rep. Jim Jordan surrounded by journalists in a hallway at the Capitol.
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a longtime antagonist of President Biden and Democrats, said he would try to become speaker.Kenny Holston/The New York Times

The second-ranking House Republican and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday both announced their campaigns for speaker, setting the stage for a bruising struggle pitting some of the most conservative G.O.P. leaders against one another.

One day after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as the House’s leader threw the chamber into a state of paralysis, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, said he would try to become speaker. Mr. Jordan’s bid sets up a challenge with Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, currently the No. 2 House Republican, who also announced he would run, and potentially others.

The contenders were all sounding out potential supporters but no real deliberations were to occur before next Tuesday.

The vacancy at the top of the House was creating mounting concerns at the Capitol and the White House about the fate of spending legislation — including hoped-for funding for Ukraine — due in 40 days.

At the White House, President Biden began an announcement on student loan debt relief on Wednesday by addressing chaos in the House and calling on lawmakers to change the “poisonous atmosphere in Washington.”

“We cannot and should not again be faced with an 11th-hour decision or brinkmanship that threatens to shut down the government,” he said. “And we know what we have to do, and we gotta — we have to get it done in a timely fashion.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers also raised alarm about the predicament Congress found itself in.

“I want my country to be at work,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and chair of the Appropriations Committee. “We have a job to do.”

After a historic vote to remove Mr. McCarthy from the speakership on Tuesday, lawmakers quickly departed Washington and scattered to their districts around the country, abandoning the Capitol as Republicans remained deeply divided over who could lead their fractious majority. The sudden departure and the stasis in the House meant that little could be done in Washington even as Congress faced a mid-November deadline to keep the government funded.

Even if the House were able to select its new speaker sometime next week, it would take time for that person to get up to speed.

“It is going to take a while to get the train back on the tracks,” said Senator Markwayne Mullin, Republican of Oklahoma and a former House member who has close ties to his G.O.P. colleagues in that chamber.

The comments underscored the chaos now gripping the chamber, without the ability to conduct legislative business until a successor to Mr. McCarthy is chosen. The decision by Mr. McCarthy to not seek the post again after being unceremoniously deposed at the hands of the far right touched off a competitive race to succeed him.

Discussions on the future of the conference were being led by Representative Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina. Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, had named Mr. McHenry first on a list of potential interim speakers in the event of a calamity or vacancy, but his primary task is to preside over the election of a new speaker. Mr. McHenry has long dismissed the prospect of seeking the top post himself, though he could face a push to draft him if the party is unable to coalesce around another choice.

Mr. Jordan, the combative chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, made clear his intentions Wednesday morning as he headed into a meeting of Texas Republicans who were conducting interviews with contenders. Twenty-five Republicans from the state sit in the House out of 221 total, making their votes crucial in the speaker’s race.

“I think I can unite the conservative base and the party and the conference; that’s why I’m running,” Mr. Jordan said on his way into lunch with the Texans.

In the past, Mr. Jordan was often at odds with his own party’s leadership, but he built an alliance with Mr. McCarthy. When Republicans won the House majority last year, he worked more in concert with the leadership as head of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Scalise sent a letter to his colleagues on Wednesday laying out his candidacy and emphasizing his experience as the second in command under Mr. McCarthy.

“I have a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints within our conference to build consensus where others thought it impossible,” said Mr. Scalise. The Louisianian was badly wounded in a 2017 shooting at a baseball practice of congressional Republicans but has steadily recovered. He recently disclosed he was being treated for blood cancer.

Other names that have surfaced as potential contenders include Representative Tom Cole, the Oklahoma Republican and Rules Committee chairman, as well as the No. 3 House Republican, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who, according to people who have talked with him, is backing Mr. Scalise and angling to take over the No. 2 post of majority leader.

Rep. Steve Scalise speaking from a podium without anyone else visible in the photo.
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana is currently the No. 2 House Republican.Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

If it does come down to Mr. Scalise versus Mr. Jordan, the race will be a contest of two men further to the right than Mr. McCarthy. Both men voted to object to the certification of President Biden’s 2020 victory as former President Donald J. Trump peddled lies about widespread election fraud, and both have been chairmen of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Mr. Jordan is also the co-founder of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which has antagonized a succession of House speakers.

Both men also have faced scrutiny of their past. Mr. Scalise apologized in 2014 for having spoken in 2002 at a gathering of white nationalists, and a political journalist said that he had once described himself to her as “David Duke without the baggage,” an apparent reference to the former Ku Klux Klan leader. Mr. Jordan has denied accusations that he turned a blind eye to complaints of sexual abuse committed by a doctor at Ohio State University decades ago when he was an assistant wrestling coach there.

Under the current tentative schedule, Republicans intend to hold a party meeting on Tuesday at which the contenders will be able to make their case before their colleagues, with the possibility of picking their choice for speaker for a possible floor vote on Wednesday.

The nominee would have to win a majority of the House, a tall order given Republicans’ slim majority and the rift among them that made it so difficult for Mr. McCarthy to win the post and do the job for the nine months that he held it. Right-wing Republicans have made clear that they will not support a speaker without assurances that they will see their priorities, including enacting deep spending cuts and severe immigration restrictions, met.

That is nearly impossible to promise given that Democrats control the Senate and the White House. And the situation could be a recipe for further dysfunction on Capitol Hill, most immediately in negotiations on federal spending. The House and Senate must agree by mid-November on the 12 annual appropriations bills to fund the government in the fiscal year that began on Sunday, something that cannot be done without a speaker in place.

Should a new Republican speaker be chosen, the pressure would be immense for that person to push for spending levels far below what Mr. McCarthy had agreed to in a debt deal with President Biden in the spring. Changing the terms of that deal would prompt a clash with the Senate, which is adhering to the agreement.

Catie Edmondson and Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.”

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