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Fate of House GOP leadership throws Congress into chaos

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is running for Speaker of the House, a race that will have a significant impact on the future of the Republican party and the governing ability of Congress.
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Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is running for Speaker of the House, a race that will have a significant impact on the future of the Republican party and the governing ability of Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives remains virtually frozen as Republican tumult fuels scrambled plans over who could take over leadership of the lower chamber.

Republican members huddled in meeting after meeting on Wednesday with potential candidates for speaker talking to the different factions of the party.

"There's scenarios where this could be going on for weeks," Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., told reporters steps off the House floor amid the competing meetings.

Graves, a key ally to Kevin McCarthy and North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, who is now acting speaker, warned against rushing to pick a new speaker.

There is a tension between some lawmakers who want a quick election for speaker to move on and those who caution the conference needs to coalesce around someone who can bring all the factions together and avoid another embarrassing debacle on the House floor with multiple rounds of balloting.

"I think the first step is letting people go home to decompress a little bit," Graves said. "The second step is letting us come back together and I think before we have a single discussion about speaker, we've got to discuss the functionality of the position."

The race to a Republican speaker

House Republicans left a Tuesday evening conference meeting after McCarthy's ouster stunned, but with plans to meet again in a week to pick a candidate to succeed him. If so, they could vote on the new speaker next Wednesday.

But it's unclear if they'll reach that goal.

A few floors below where Graves gave his remarks, a closed-door meeting was taking place between a delegation of Texas congressional members and potential speaker candidates. It marks one of many meetings expected in the growing Republican race to lead the narrowly controlled chamber.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La.; Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and Rep. Kevin Hern, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, were among those meeting with Texas members on Wednesday.

A group of GOP lawmakers from New York left the speaker's office and declined to say who they were backing for speaker. Asked about moving ahead with a vote next Wednesday, Rep. Nick LaLota, said he wanted a vote "I think the sooner the better."

Scalise and Jordan say they're running

Hern has not yet publicly announced his candidacy but Jordan and Scalise have already jumped into the fray.

"I have a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints within our Conference to build consensus where others thought it impossible," Scalise said in his statement.

Scalise has been a member of House GOP leadership since 2014 and was first elected to Congress in a special election in 2008. He is widely respected among House Republicans but many members are calling for fresh faces and fresh leadership after the ouster of former Speaker McCarthy.

He is pitching himself as a unifying force against Democrats.

"Our strength as a Conference comes from our unity, and we have seen when we unite as a Conference, we can deliver wins for the American people," Scalise said. "Now we need to take those unified positions and work to extract conservative wins from the Democrat Senate and White House by leveraging upcoming deadlines. While we need to be realistic about what can be achieved, if we stay united, we can preserve leverage for the House to secure tangible wins in our impending policy fights."

Jordan is one of the founding members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and served as the group's first chair. He has been a driving force on the right flank of the party since he was elected in 2006.

In recent years Jordan has gone from an agitating force seeking to oust former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to a central player in the party. His influence grew first under Former President Trump as he became one of his most forceful defenders in Congress. A shared loyalty to Trump help foster a more collegial relationship with McCarthy during his speakership.

But Graves cautioned against promoting current members of the leadership team — without specifically noting Scalise's name. "I think it's a mistake right now for the conference to just give everybody one, one rung of promotion. That is premature. We've got to address some of the fundamental issues I brought up before. I think we need to do a deeper dive and look at the accountability of the leadership team and something that I think was flawed in January."

As lawmakers considered other races for leadership posts below the speaker, and who might run, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., stressed the focus should be on the speaker's race, saying, "this is constitutional line of succession, the rest of it is palace intrigue."

"The House of Representatives remains frozen"

Graves said it's possible to consider a scenario where McHenry remains in his temporary post for an extended period while allowing work on the floor.

But complex rules largely restrict the House from conducting business, that includes advancing legislation or referring bills to committees.

"We're in a situation now where you've have unprecedented conditions where the House of Representatives is effectively frozen," he said.

Graves said members should not repeat the 15 rounds of elections it took to elect McCarthy speaker in January, and rather, get that work done behind closed doors. In the meantime, he said some Republicans are looking for a workaround to allow House floor work until a permanent speaker is chosen.

"This is a blank slate. And so the limitations or the authority is really unknown," he said. "So folks are trying to figure out how to build the airplane while you're flying it."

NPR's Kelsey Snell and Susan Davis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is an assistant producer with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces, the NPR Politics Podcast, and digital content. She also reports from the field and helps run the NPR Politics social media channels.