WASHINGTON – As top House Republicans jockey to succeed ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a familiar question looms.
Can House Republicans get the 218 votes they need for a speaker?
It took McCarthy 15 historic rounds to finally claim the spot 10 months ago, and there’s no clear frontrunner to replace him.
House Republicans will hold a closed-door candidate forum Tuesday to discuss potential nominees, but GOP lawmakers are already starting to split and line up behind different candidates including Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
McCarthy’s ouster, which has left the House paralyzed without a clear successor, has put into full focus the enormous task ahead of the next speaker: uniting the deeply fractured House GOP conference.
‘People are mad’
One of the possible leadership changes would rearrange the chain of command in the House GOP conference.
Scalise, who is currently the No. 2 ranking House Republican, is eyeing moving up to the highest position as speaker. The Louisiana Republican formally announced his plans to pursue the speakership Wednesday, writing to colleagues, “we all need to come together and pull in the same direction to get the country back on the right track.”
At the same time, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the No. 3 ranking House Republican has endorsed Scalise’s speaker bid while also looking to take Scalise’s spot as majority leader in the event Scalise prevails.
But the idea that leadership will all move up the totem pole after McCarthy’s ouster, is nonsense, according to Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., one of McCarthy’s top lieutenants.
Graves, who has ruled out running for leadership, said tensions are currently high within the GOP conference and has yet to back a specific candidate given the turmoil House Republicans have found themselves in.
“There’s a lot of raw emotion in the conference. I think they made the right decision by pressing pause for a minute,” Graves said, referencing a closed-door conference meeting after McCarthy’s ouster and the decision to adjourn until Tuesday. “I think if we stayed in the room last night, and I’m not exaggerating, I think it probably would have devolved into a little bit of physical altercation in there.”
“People are mad. And justifiably so,” Graves added.
5 takeaways: ‘Institution fell today.’ McCarthy ousted as speaker by right-wing rebellion
GOP lawmakers keep their cards close
For Scalise’s part, the majority leader has already started to shore up support for his speakership bid.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, told reporters Wednesday, “Steve Scalise has a lot of people who will walk through fire for the man.”
At the same time, Jordan, who also announced his bid for the speakership Wednesday, is starting to build support from Rep.. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and his fellow Ohioan, Rep. Mike Carey, R-Ohio.
“House Republicans need a leader who can unite the conference and build on the accomplishments of Kevin McCarthy,” Carey said in a statement. “Jim Jordan is a proven conservative fighter who can continue delivering results to America.”
But in a display of the uncertainty surrounding House Republicans, most lawmakers leaving a weekly luncheon held by the Texas House GOP delegation are keeping their cards close to their chest.
“We’re keeping our powder dry,” Rep. Keith Self, R-Texas., told USA TODAY Wednesday.
Rep. Brian Babbin, R-Texas., told reporters he thought Scalise and Jordan were “cut out of the same cloth,” and did not say which candidate he was leaning towards.
“They’d all be great speakers,” Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas., told USA TODAY. Jackson said he still has to “talk to folks” before making up his mind.
Finding a new speaker could be an ‘arduous process’
When House members return next week for the speaker election which is expected to take place next Wednesday, some lawmakers said it is entirely possible the House remains frozen in place without a speaker, given the uncertainty behind the next speaker and the divisions within the conference.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who was a key McCarthy ally, is temporarily serving in a limited capacity as acting speaker of the House while lawmakers scramble to find a successor. Graves told reporters he warned McHenry to get “comfortable” in his new position.
“I said ‘You may want to get comfortable in your position of authority,’” Graves said. “Because I think this could be a pretty arduous process trying to move forward. There’s a lot of raw emotions.”
At least one thing House Republicans can agree on so far, it appears, is that they need to find consensus.
“Everybody’s in the mood right now to get stuff done and get behind a single person,” Jackson said “It probably won’t happen right away. We’ll probably get through multiple rounds of voting but it’ll work itself out.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans scramble to find new House speaker who can get 218 votes