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House is left paralyzed as divided Republicans search for new leader after McCarthy’s ouster

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The stunning removal of Kevin McCarthy as speaker left the House effectively paralyzed Wednesday as Republicans struggled to bring order to their fractured majority and begin the difficult — and potentially prolonged — process of uniting around a new leader.

The House opened briefly then shuttered closed, with caretaker speaker pro-tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry serving in the job with very little power for the foreseeable future. Other Republicans left Washington, awaiting the next steps.

The House will try to elect a speaker as soon as next week, but the timing is nowhere near certain as Republicans line up for their chance at the gavel amid the bitter divisions that sparked the chaos.

Top Republican lieutenant, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is in line for the role, but faced an immediate challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a favorite of conservatives who quickly announced his own bid for speaker. Other candidates seemed certain to emerge.

The path ahead is deeply uncertain. Many doubt that any of the candidates can get the 218 votes needed to secure the gavel, with each having their own faction of support and share of detractors. Voting for McCarthy in January took 15 excruciating rounds even though he was the consensus choice of the conference.

House Republicans plan to meet next Tuesday evening at the Capitol for a first round of internal party voting.

“I think the circus stuff needs to happen behind closed doors,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.

It is shaping up to be wide open battle for the gavel as Congress faces a new deadline to fund the government by mid-November. Work on legislation in the House is on hold due to the vacancy in the speaker’s office, creating the potential for extended paralysis.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called it a “dangerous situation.”

President Joe Biden addressed McCarthy’s ouster on Wednesday, saying that the American people still expected the government to get its work done in a timely fashion. He spoke head-on to McCarthy being booted because he worked with Democrats to keep the government open through mid-November, saying, “We need to stop seeing each other as enemies.”

“We cannot and should not again be faced with an 11th-hour decision of brinksmanship that threatens to shut down the government,” Biden said.

Electing a new speaker risks inflaming the divisions that have plagued House Republicans all year, particularly if lawmakers make new demands before pledging support.

Scalise has long been viewed as a potential speaker-in-waiting and is revered as a survivor after he was shot in the hip at a congressional baseball team practice in 2017. But Scalise is also undergoing treatment for a form of blood cancer, forcing him away from the Capitol at times.

In a letter to colleagues asking for their support, Scalise acknowledged the difficulties plaguing both his health and the conference at this moment in time but said that he has overcome adversity before.

“This next chapter won’t be easy, but I know what it takes to fight and I am prepared for the battles that lie ahead,” he wrote.

Jordan, meanwhile, made his own pitch for the gavel by emphasizing his oversight work and aspirations. And echoed Scalise’s call for unity during “divided times.”

“The problems we face are challenging, but they are not insurmountable,” he said.

Jordan and Scalise are expected to be joined in the race by at least one other Republican candidate: Rep. Kevin Hern, the chair of the Republican Study Committee — the largest GOP caucus in the House.

But some Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, say lawmakers should look outside the Capitol for their next speaker, as the Constitution allows — and draft former President Donald Trump into the role.

Speaking to reporters at a New York courthouse Wednesday, Trump said he’ll “do whatever it is to help” Republicans in the speakership race, but said he is focused “totally” on his campaign to return to the White House.

“If I can help them during the process, I would do it. But we have some great people in the Republican Party that could do a great job as speaker,” he said.

While electing a new speaker faces a test for Republicans, the more immediate challenge is moving past the extraordinary strife that has plagued their conference in recent weeks, amid the fight to avoid a government shutdown.

The raw feelings were apparent at a closed-door meeting of Republicans on Tuesday evening where members unloaded their anger at the eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to depose their speaker.

Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, pointed at the lawmakers who voted against McCarthy and said, “I’ve never been part of a worse team,” according to a Republican who was in the room who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conference.

Graves said it was positive that the session had been short, to avoid anyone coming to blows.

“We’ve got to discuss a functional structure that ensures that a Republican majority is truly a Republican majority,” Graves said.

Some Republicans are hoping that the looming contest for speaker can somehow unify them rather than send them spiraling into further disarray.

“We’ve got to go through the getting over the emotions of this week and then we’ll be ready,” said Rep. Keith Self, a Texas Republican. “There’s nothing like a crisis to tell people that you have to work together.”


Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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