The 221-strong Republican contingent that controls the House of Representatives is set to hold a “candidate forum” to pick a replacement for speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted in a mutiny led by the far right last week.
Neither of the declared candidates- House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan has won enough support to emerge as a clear frontrunner, raising fears over a prolonged paralysis in the House.
“While we argue about so many serious internal problems, we seem to be unaware of the grave dangers facing us and our allies across the world,” Pennsylvania congressman Mike Kelly posted on social media.
“The greatest nation to ever inhabit this planet is consumed with political issues and ignoring her own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.”
The leadership vacuum has prompted speculation over a possible comeback by McCarthy so that Congress can pass legislation to address the crisis in Israel, which is reeling from a deadly weekend attack by Hamas militants.
“I’ve said throughout this that I’ve supported Kevin McCarthy. I believe he is the right person to lead,” New York congressman Mike Lawler told reporters in the Capitol.
McCarthy had vowed not to seek the gavel again after becoming the first speaker in history to be ousted during his term, in a coup last Tuesday orchestrated by a handful of far right lawmakers backed by Democrats.
Israel, Ukraine aid hampered
But he opened the door to a return during a press conference about the Middle East on Monday that appeared calculated to remind the media and his rivals of his credentials and experience.
Neither Jordan nor Scalise spoke at a closed-door House Republican meeting Monday night, according to politics website Punchbowl News, but three lawmakers said they’d only vote for McCarthy.
A triumphant comeback is considered highly unlikely, however, as there is no indication that McCarthy has managed to turn around any of the rebels who forced him out.
Scalise, McCarthy’s longtime deputy, has pitched himself as the unity candidate who can heal the party’s bitter divides while Jordan, who has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, is a darling of the right.
House Republicans will hear from the pair at 5:00 pm (2100 GMT), with the internal party vote to select the nominee scheduled for Wednesday.
The contest has taken on a heightened sense of urgency in the wake of the bloodshed in Israel, which left more than 900 dead in the worst attack in the country’s 75-year history.
President Joe Biden has pledged US help, and Democrats have been pushing for emergency aid to be wrapped into a broader Ukraine-focused funding package being prepared in the Senate.
But administration officials fear requests for funding could go unanswered amid the uncertainty in Congress, with lawmakers unable to sign off on emergency aid without a speaker in the House.
With the House paralyzed by the leadership drama and the Senate in recess this week, the November 17 deadline for passing a 2024 budget to avoid the government shutting down is also beginning to worry lawmakers.