Republicans scramble to unite behind a speaker

More Republicans began taking sides Tuesday in a battle for the speaker’s gavel that pits Majority Leader Steve Scalise against Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan.

The GOP conference, however, has yet to coalesce behind one candidate which must happen to elect a speaker.

Republicans met for the second day in a row in a closed-door meeting to hash out who should replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was removed from the speakership in a historic vote last week. 

Republicans plan to hold a formal vote on Wednesday in a third closed-door meeting. It would require only a simple majority of those votes to nominate a speaker, but nearly all Republicans would have to be united to elect a Republican speaker.

As of late Tuesday, neither Mr. Jordan nor Mr. Scalise had lined up enough votes after addressing the conference. 

“They had a very robust debate,” Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas said following the GOP meeting. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

Both Mr. Jordan of Ohio and Mr. Scalise of Louisiana, the two candidates in the race, are largely aligned on key issues.

They both say restoring security along the southern border would be their top priority. Both men say they oppose the U.S. sending another tranche of money to Ukraine, which has already received $75 billion in U.S. assistance since Russia invaded the country in 2022. 

They also say the U.S. should support Israel, which is exhausting its stockpile of weapons and interceptors as it enters a third day of war against Hamas, the terror organization that invaded the country and killed hundreds of people on Saturday.

Mr. Scalise endorsed giving Israel “what it needs” to defeat Hamas. Mr. Jordan called on the U.S. to “support” Israel. 

It’s unlikely either of them would back bundling aid to both Ukraine and Israel in one bill. 

Mr. Jordan, 59,  said he plans to use the threat of a 1% across-the-board funding cut, which is enshrined in the most recent debt limit deal, as leverage in the spending fight with the Democrat-led Senate and White House. The 1% cut would be triggered automatically unless all 12 of the government’s fiscal 2024 spending bills are signed into law by Jan. 1.

Both men want the Senate to act on the individual spending bills and not force the House to vote on a large package that lumps all government funding together, which happens nearly every year. 

“If they send us a package, and we accept it, having gone through all 12 of our appropriations, quite frankly, that’s horseshit,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, a Florida Republican who is undecided in the race. “And any speaker who accepts it is not someone who I can support.”

Mr. Jordan was once a bomb-thrower from the lower ranks of the GOP who worked his way into top committee posts. He is a hero to hardline House conservatives and is considered slightly to the right of Mr. Scalise.

Mr. Scalise, 58, has been a member of the Republican leadership for more than a decade and has built a loyal base of support. 

Both are staunch allies of former President Donald Trump, but Mr. Trump has thrown his support behind Mr. Jordan in the speaker’s race. 

Mr. Jordan appeared to be in the lead on rounding up support, according to rank-and-file lawmakers. But many are still undecided.

Republicans will likely rally behind whoever wins the majority in the GOP conference Wednesday, lawmakers predict. 

“We are all committed to somebody walking out of here with 218 tomorrow,” Rep. Pat Fallon, of Texas, said after the meeting, referencing the approximate number of votes needed to be elect speaker.

Mr. McCarthy, 58, could be a wildcard in the race.

His ouster was opposed by all but eight Republicans and a faction of the many lawmakers who voted to keep him now want a chance to give him back the gavel.

A group of centrist Republicans, leery of Mr. Jordan’s hardline conservatism, say they plan to nominate Mr. McCarthy, who says he is not running for the post. 

Mr. McCarthy is quietly discouraging the move and behind the scenes is helping Mr. Jordan win the gavel over his former top deputy. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Scalise are not close allies and those in Mr. McCarthy’s camp say Mr. Scalise did little to aid Mr. McCarthy before his ouster.

Mr. Scalise said he’s racking up support for his candidacy.

“We’ve been building a coalition amongst my colleagues, from every swath of the conference,” Mr. Scalise said. 

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