As Republicans split over who will be House speaker, McCarthy positions himself as a de facto leader

Former Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations, killing hundreds and taking captives. Palestinian health officials reported scores of deaths from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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By Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freking

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have no clear idea who to elect U.S. House speaker, leaving an unprecedented power vacuum in Congress and severely limiting America’s ability to quickly respond to the crisis in Israel — or any number of other problems at home or abroad.

On Monday, the ousted former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, quickly jumped into the void, bitterly criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration over the strength of its defense of Israel and positioning himself as a de facto Republican leader even though his colleagues toppled him from power.

But it’s not at all clear if McCarthy could seriously make a comeback — or if any other Republicans seeking the gavel, Steve Scalise or Jim Jordan — can be elected speaker as their majority dissembles into infighting. House Republicans are scheduled to meet behind closed doors Monday evening to try to regain control of their majority ahead of possible speaker votes this week.

“Whether I’m speaker or not… I can lead in any position I’m in,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said at the Capitol.

The upheaval in the House puts the U.S. Congress at a crossroads during a time of crisis, the first time in history it has booted a speaker from power, operating without a constitutional officer, second in line to the presidency. House business, and with it most congressional action, has come to a standstill.

It’s not at all clear what, if anything, the Congress can do with only an interim leader. At risk is immediate aid to Israel along with passage of a resolution that would show U.S. support for Israel and condemnation of Hamas for the attack as the region is now engulfed in war.

And there are broader demands on Congress, including Ukraine’s requests for aid as it fights Russia and the need to fund the U.S. government again by Nov. 17 or risk a federal shutdown. The Senate meanwhile is also out of session, on recess until next week.

“Does anybody have the votes? No,” said Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, a centrist Republican pushing for McCarthy to be reinstated as speaker.

Republicans are scheduled to meet privately in the evening as they assess the path forward after McCarthy’s historic ouster by a handful of hardline Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.,

Gaetz has said on social media there are “two great men” running for speaker, indicating he could support either Scalise or Jordan.

But neither Scalise, the majority leader who is the second-ranking Republican in the House, nor Jordan, who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and backed by Donald Trump, appear to have the votes needed to secure the majority vote.

Both Republicans who have eyed the speaker’s gavel for some time come with political strengths, but also baggage that leaves colleagues split and skeptical.

Scalise is battling blood cancer, and is seen by a hero among colleagues for having survived severe injuries from a mass shooting during a congressional baseball game practice in 2017. But the Louisiana Republican had apologized in 2014 after he was found to have addressed a white supremacist group in 2002 founded by a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Scalise said he didn’t know of the group’s racial views.

Jordan is a high-profile political firebrand known for his close alliance with Trump, particularly when the former president was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election that led to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Some years ago, Jordan and his office denied allegations from former wrestlers during his time as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University who accused him of knowing about claims they were inappropriately groped by an Ohio doctor. Jordan and his office have said that he was never aware of any abuse.

“House Republicans need to unite and show the country that we’re fighting for them,” Jordan said Sunday on Fox News.

The House Republicans hold just a slim majority and they are considering rules changes to avoid another spectacle electing a new speaker like the 15 rounds it took McCarthy in January to seize the gavel when Gaetz and others first blocked him at the start of the year.