Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Jim Jordan (left) and Patrick McHenry (right) are among the candidates who could emerge as the next Republican choice for Speaker
By Bernd Debusmann Jr on Capitol Hill
A day after one Republican nominee to be Speaker of the House of Representatives withdrew from the running, another with equally long odds is making a fresh bid for the gavel.
Jim Jordan, a leader of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, won a Republican vote to be the nominee after his colleague Steve Scalise stepped aside on Thursday.
But it is unclear if Mr Jordan has the majority support needed in the full House.
In a closed door voting on Friday, Mr Jordan defeated Congressman Austin Scott of Georgia by a vote of 124 to 81.
But the Georgia lawmaker had little name recognition and was seen as even more of a longshot.
Ten days have now passed since the Speaker’s chair was vacated after an unprecedented vote to oust Kevin McCarthy from the job.
The vacuum at the very top of the US government has left the lower chamber of Congress unable to carry out its most basic functions.
The exit routes
1. Jordan – or another Republican – gets 217 votes
As frustration over the stalemate grows, some lawmakers see a path for Mr Jordan to become the new Speaker after the entire House votes.
As he announced his bid on Friday, the Ohio congressman said he feels “real good” about his prospects.
Whether he can gain enough votes from fellow Republicans, however, is unclear. In an earlier secret ballot on Wednesday that saw Mr Scalise briefly become the nominee, Mr Jordan earned 99 votes to Mr Scalise’s 113.
Florida congressman Mario Díaz-Balart voiced doubts to reporters on Friday about Mr Jordan’s ability to win the gavel and, if even he does become Speaker, function effectively.
He pointed to Mr Jordan’s failure after losing the internal ballot on Wednesday to convince his own supporters to switch their support to Mr Scalise.
Mr Díaz-Balart said: “If you can’t get your closest friends [to follow you], it begs the question: can you do anything? Can you get anybody to follow you on really difficult questions?”
One of Mr Jordan’s backers, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, said she hoped party members can coalesce around a Speaker and bring it to a vote on the House floor “immediately”.
She criticised those who have said they would never vote for Mr Jordan. “Saying ‘never’ anything is just not the way to go”, said Ms Greene on Friday.
Some moderate lawmakers have expressed reluctance to vote for Mr Jordan, a conservative hardliner backed by former President Donald Trump.
Others have argued that Mr Jordan is not adept at fundraising – Speakers are expected to get donors to open their chequebooks for the party.
If the House Judiciary Committee chairman fails, more names are likely to be floated in the coming days.
They include Tom Emmer, the third-highest ranking House Republican, and Kevin Hern, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
In the meantime, some representatives have said they are at a loss.
“I have no earthly idea,” Missouri’s Mark Alford told NBC. “We’re a ship that doesn’t have a rudder right now.”
Another proposal would see the House’s acting Speaker, Patrick McHenry, be granted extra powers temporarily.
This would allow the House to function – and avoid a government shutdown in a month’s time – while a longer-term solution is found. This would require some co-operation from Democrats to work out the details.
“It’s important that we get back to the business of running this country,” Ohio congressman Dave Joyce said of that option, according to the Washington Post.
But some lawmakers don’t want a short-term fix.
“Members want this resolved,” Florida’s Byron Donalds told reporters. “I think a… caretaker is not what members are interested in, and frankly I agree.”
He said he believes a temporary speaker would not be effective amid ongoing negotiations over the budget and other issues.
3. Democrats to the rescue
A third option would be for Republicans to agree with Democrats on a consensus Republican candidate.
This option, however, would entail concessions to the minority party. Democrats want to eliminate a new rule introduced in January that gives any member the power to bring a vote to the floor to overthrow the Speaker.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has suggested that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to end the deadlock
“We are ready, willing and able to find bipartisan common ground,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on Thursday. But that would require Republican partners, he added.
Some lawmakers, including Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have suggested that five Republicans could switch sides and vote for Mr Jeffries to become Speaker.
But that looks very unlikely.
Why Scalise failed
Media caption, Watch: Five things to know about Steve Scalise
Mr Scalise’s bid was plagued by the same issues that vexed former Speaker Kevin McCarthy before he was overthrown last week.
The Republicans control the House, but with a narrow majority.
To successfully secure the votes needed to win a floor vote, Mr Scalise needed 217 of 221 Republican representatives (House members) to vote for him. Only five rebels were needed to torpedo his leadership ambitions.
Despite his victory in the internal party ballot on Wednesday, momentum quickly swung against him.
The holdouts gave a variety of reasons, ranging from disagreements over policy to a simple desire not to uphold what some termed “the status quo”.
Why all this is a problem
The vacancy in one of the most important roles in US government comes at a bad time.
Without a Speaker, the chamber is unable to pass any bills or approve White House requests for emergency aid. That includes potential help for Israel amid its ongoing fight with Hamas.
A leaderless House also means that Congress is unable to pass any spending bills – even short-term measures – that would allow the government to avoid a potential shutdown in mid-November.
Several members of the House have suggested a solution is unlikely until early next week.
What exactly that looks like remains an open question.