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In 10th Day Without a Speaker, House Republicans See No End in Sight

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Updated: | Originally published:

House Republicans were scrambling on Friday to pick a new nominee for the vacant Speaker position after Majority Leader Steve Scalise abruptly dropped out of the race, as competing agendas and deeply held grudges threatened to drag the competition out into next week.

After meeting behind closed doors in the afternoon, the majority of the conference settled on Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan to be the next Speaker, but dozens of Republicans voted against the fiery conservative, leaving him far short of the 217 votes he needs to win the job in a formal vote before the full House.

Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, won an internal nomination by a vote of 124-81 over Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, an ally of the ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who announced just hours earlier that he would seek the nomination as a more moderate alternative to Jordan.

In a second internal vote to gauge support, 55 House Republicans said they would vote against Jordan on the House floor. Now in their 10th day without a leader, House Republicans are grappling with how to move forward in the face of intense internal divisions and several mounting issues.

Late Friday, as several lawmakers appeared ready to leave for the weekend, all signs pointed to the House not reconvening again until Tuesday at the earliest.

The conference’s inability to coalesce around a candidate has left the House at a standstill, raising concerns about the looming government funding deadline and whether lawmakers will be able to provide support to Israel and Ukraine. Though some lawmakers were bracing for another heated floor vote as soon as that afternoon, as the day passed by, a vote before Tuesday appeared increasingly unlikely. At least 10 Republicans had already left the Capitol, according to several sources.

While Jordan's allies have been actively seeking support for his candidacy, moderate Republicans have voiced concerns about rewarding what they see as Jordan’s "bad behavior," both in recent days and since Republicans took control of the chamber in January. Some have argued that Jordan and his backers, including members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, have pursued a takeover of Republican leadership through disruptive tactics, taking advantage of the GOP's narrow majority. Jordan finished second to Scalise in internal GOP balloting this week, earning 47% of the conference’s vote.

The inability of any Republican nominee to secure 217 votes, a majority in the full House, has thrown the Speaker race into uncertainty. Democrats are expected to unite behind their pick, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, leaving little room for the Republican nominee to garner support from within a GOP conference with a razor-thin majority.

Jeffries has said that he would support a bipartisan coalition speaker if it meant keeping Congress operational, and several Democrats appear willing to support a Republican in exchange for several concessions, such as making it harder for a handful of members to depose a speaker, putting Ukraine and Israel aid on the floor, and allowing Democrats to pass bills in some narrow cases.

Scalise, widely seen as the heir apparent to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, bowed out of the race on Thursday night, one day after he had narrowly won the nomination within the GOP caucus, as he struggled to round enough votes to get elected Speaker on the full House floor. “This country is counting on us to come back together,” Scalise said after informing the conference of his decision. “This House of Representatives needs a speaker, and we need to open up the House again. But clearly, not everybody is there and there’s still schisms that have to get resolved.”

The House GOP's internal strife is not limited to the ideological differences between centrists and hard-right conservatives but is a more pervasive issue, with dissatisfaction and resentment rampant across the entire conference. Many within the party are questioning whether any candidate can succeed under the current divisive environment.

"We need to all recognize that this is much bigger than just one person or any single person's petty feelings," said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a New York Republican, who initially voted for Jordan but later publicly supported Scalise.

The path to securing the Speaker's gavel continues to be fraught with obstacles, and even Jordan's closest allies have acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead. Rep. Greg Murphy, a North Carolina Republican, expressed uncertainty about Jordan's ability to secure the needed 217 GOP votes. “Personally, I think it may end up being a compromise candidate,” he said.

While Jordan is celebrated by far-right conservatives, he faces skepticism from more senior and establishment Republicans who are wary of his past as a Freedom Caucus founder. Some centrist Republicans are concerned that Jordan's ultraconservative stances could jeopardize their already fragile majority in purple districts. If Jordan is unable to secure the 217 votes he needs in short order, it is widely expected that other candidates will step forward and formally declare to run. Potential candidates include House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, who is chair of the Republican Study Committee. 

As Republicans search for a way out of the Speaker crisis, some lawmakers have openly discussed the possibility of granting Rep. Patrick McHenry, who has been serving as temporary Speaker, more authority to bring legislation to the House floor. Such a move would likely require a full House vote.

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Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com