Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan face a tense and divided GOP in House speaker fight

WASHINGTON — The Republicans vying to be the next House speaker will make their case to GOP lawmakers Tuesday, the first formal step to settle a race triggered a week ago after an internal revolt ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy and left the House leaderless.

Tensions are high, and the two declared candidates have already split the conference. Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., has secured some endorsements from center-right and swing district members, and right-wing firebrand Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, snagged the support of former President Donald Trump and various House conservatives.

A GOP candidate will need to win a simple majority of the House to be elected speaker — at least 217 of the 221 Republicans (no Democrats are expected to join Republicans, and there are two empty seats). It’s unclear when that vote would take place, and it could again be a messy process like the 15 rounds of voting it took McCarthy, R-Calif., to win the gavel.

House Republicans met for two hours Monday, and multiple lawmakers told NBC News it wasn’t clear whether they would elect a speaker by the end of the week. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., called it a “coin flip.” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., cautioned, “This is going to take a while to come to fruition.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a Jordan backer, called for a one-week delay in the speaker vote, saying Republicans need to get things right.

“It’s been less than a week. The body’s still warm,” Miller said.

The next speaker will face major challenges, including a Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government or face a shutdown, as well as a growing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Scalise and Jordan will make their pitches at 5 p.m. Tuesday at a closed-door candidates forum. Then, House Republicans are expected to hold a private, secret ballot election at 9 a.m. Wednesday to choose their nominee before they call the floor vote.

A dark horse candidate is McCarthy himself, as some Republicans insist he be reinstated. They include Reps. David Valadao, a fellow California Republican, and Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., a freshman who represents a swing district.

“I know, among conversations that I’ve had with many colleagues, people are disgusted by what happened. It shouldn’t have happened,” Lawler told reporters Monday.

“I think there’s a vast majority of the conference that really wants to get back to the work that we were all elected to do. And a lot of people believe that Kevin McCarthy is the right person to lead us,” he said.

Lawler dismissed suggestions that McCarthy couldn’t get 217 votes after eight Republicans voted to oust him.

“Who can? Does anybody have the votes? No,” he said. “Last week was unprecedented. So I think for anybody to just declare, ‘Well, that’s not possible’ — obviously anything’s possible in this place.”

But some of the eight GOP foes who voted to oust McCarthy, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Tim Burchett of Tennessee, say there’s zero chance they will reverse course and back him.

“Math is real. Time to move forward,” Gaetz wrote on X in response to Lawler.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., one of the eight who voted to remove McCarthy, reposted Gaetz’s tweet, adding: “It is not at all surprising that people who vote for trillion dollar deficits, massive Omnibus bills and CRs can’t count.” (“CRs” are continuing resolutions, which are temporary spending bills.)

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., rolled his eyes when he was asked about a McCarthy comeback, declining to comment beyond the eye-roll.

And even as McCarthy took on a speaker-like role Monday by holding a news conference and laying out his vision for U.S.-Israel relations going forward, he insisted later that he isn’t running for the job.

“No, I’m not a candidate,” he said Monday on NBC’s “Meet the Press Now.” “Whoever the conference picks I’m going to support.”

Still, he declined to endorse either Scalise or Jordan, and he didn’t rule out returning to the position if his colleagues back him: “Let the conference decide that. … I’m not going to be a player in that.”

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