The stunning removal of Kevin McCarthy as United States House of Representatives speaker on Tuesday has left the chamber adrift, as Republicans struggle to bring order to their fractured majority and begin the difficult and potentially prolonged process of uniting around a new leader.
The House convened briefly on Wednesday and then went into recess, with North Carolina’s Republican Patrick McHenry, the caretaker speaker, serving in the job with very little power for the foreseeable future.
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Other Republicans left Washington, awaiting the next steps.
The House will try to elect a speaker as soon as next week. The timing is nowhere near certain as Republicans line up for their chance at the gavel amid the bitter divisions that sparked the chaos.
The House majority leader, Republican Steve Scalise, is in line for the post, but he faced an immediate challenge from Republican Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chairman and a favourite of conservatives, who quickly announced his own candidacy. Others are expected to emerge.
Many doubt that anyone can get the 218 votes needed to become speaker. Voting for McCarthy in January took 15 excruciating rounds even though he was the consensus choice of the Republican conference.
At the White House, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said the American people still expected the government to get its work done in a timely fashion.
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 being treated for a form of blood cancer, forcing him away from the Capitol at times.
“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,” Scalise wrote in a letter to colleagues asking for their support.
Jordan made his own pitch by emphasising his oversight work and aspirations. He echoed Scalise’s call for unity during “divided times”.
“The problems we face are challenging, but they are not insurmountable,” he said.
Oklahoma’s Republican Kevin Hern, chair of the Republican Study Committee, the largest Republican caucus in the House, is also expected to join the race.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump told reporters at a New York courthouse Wednesday that he will “do whatever it is to help” Republicans in the speakership race, but that he is focused “totally” on his presidential campaign.
The more immediate challenge for Republicans is moving past the extraordinary strife that has plagued their conference in recent weeks.