Republicans in the United States House of Representatives are expected to choose their nominee for speaker after a three-week leadership vacuum that has paralysed the chamber, leaving it unable to vote on urgent funding for Israel and Ukraine.
The 221-member Republican majority in the House gathered on Tuesday morning for closed-door votes on a nominee, a flashpoint issue that has divided mainstream and hardline party members. The party is expected Eight candidates are battling it out to win the speaker’s gavel, the most powerful position in the House after the presidency. Failure to find a speaker could lead to further turmoil in the House, which faces a November 17 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
Here’s what you need to know:
What sparked the crisis?
The House has been without a speaker since the removal of Kevin McCarthy three weeks ago. McCarthy had been unseated in a vote led by Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz, who accused him of conspiring with the rival Democrats to push through a temporary spending bill at the 11th hour, narrowly averting a government shutdown.
Infighting later derailed leadership bids by two Republicans: House majority leader Steve Scalise and prominent conservative Jim Jordan. The latter, endorsed by former president Donald Trump, was dropped as nominee last week, partly because of a hardball campaign from his supporters that resulted in death threats.
It was even suggested that Trump himself could take the gavel, but the Republican presidential candidate said nobody was capable of uniting the party. “There’s only one person who can do it all the way: Jesus Christ,” he told AP.
The House is currently led by interim speaker Representative Patrick McHenry. Having rejected Scalise and Jordan, the GOP now needs to select from a lesser-known cast of candidates.
Who are the candidates?
On Monday night, eight candidates made their pitches to the party, answering questions about how they’d do the job.
The candidates include Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, a former hockey coach, Representative Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, a former McDonald’s franchise owner, Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a well-liked Trump ally, and Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a constitutional law expert.
Also in the running are Jack Bergman of Michigan, Austin Scott of Georgia, Pete Sessions of Texas and Gary Palmer of Alabama.
Emmer is currently leading the race. But it’s thought that McCarthy’s endorsement of the representative, who is said to have strong leadership and campaign fundraising experience, may put off hardliners.
Gaetz and other Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy favour Hern, Donalds and Johnson.
What factors will determine the vote?
Gaetz’s hardline faction seems set to reject any leader who voted for the budget deal McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year. Many far-right Republicans disagreed with federal spending levels, pushing for steeper cuts to federal programs. Funding for Ukraine, which was dropped from the bill to secure the deal, also sowed divisions.
Many Republicans have said they will not back somebody who has support from the opposition party. It remains to be seen whether this will change if the party fails to choose a speaker in the coming days.
With a narrow majority of 221-212 in the House, it is not clear whether any Republican can get the 218 votes, or a simple majority, needed to claim the speakership.
But some lawmakers said the party might keep voting and negotiating in private until their next nominee has locked in Republican votes.
The plan is to hold a House floor vote later this week.
The federal government risks a shutdown in a matter of weeks if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by a November 17 deadline to keep services and offices running.
More immediately, President Joe Biden has asked Congress to provide $105bn in aid to help Israel and Ukraine and to shore up the US border with Mexico. Federal aviation and farming programmes face expiration without action.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to get our act together” Representaive Dusty Johnson told The AP.
“I mean, big boys and big girls have got to quit making excuses and we just got to get it done.”