US House in limbo as Republicans struggle to anoint new leader

US House in limbo as Republicans struggle to anoint new leader
US House in limbo as Republicans struggle to anoint new leader

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, speaks to the press after a House Republicans caucus meeting at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 11, 2023. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, Oct 13 — The Republican nominee to lead the US House of Representatives struggled Thursday to find enough support to win a vote of the full chamber, underlining the mountain he will have to climb to unite the deeply fractured party.

House Republicans picked Majority Leader Steve Scalise as their replacement for ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy in a secret ballot on Wednesday — but only by a narrow margin of 113-99 over hardline rival Jim Jordan.

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With just a little over half of Republicans supporting Scalise, the party’s hopes for a moment of unity dissolved into more chaos and infighting, nine days after McCarthy’s unprecedented removal in a mutiny by right wing lawmakers.

No vote of the full House has been scheduled, but if every Democrat and Republican were present and casting ballots, Scalise would need 217 votes to prevail — a tall order, according to analysts.

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A second public tussle for the speakership — nine months after McCarthy’s marathon, 15-round battle to win the gavel — could hardly have come at a worse time for the Republican-controlled lower chamber of Congress.

The leaderless House has been unable to pass any bills or approve White House requests for emergency aid, with Israel — the top US ally in the Middle East — in a war footing against Hamas militants.

Meanwhile lawmakers are staring down a looming government shutdown as they have only a month to agree on 2024 federal spending levels before the money runs out and have made no progress during the leadership crisis.

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Scalise worked frantically to win over Jordan’s backers as Republicans met at midday, although the discussion appeared to produce more sceptics rather than new support.

“There is no consensus candidate for speaker. We need to stay in Washington till we figure this out,” Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna, who had endorsed Scalise, said in a social media post after the meeting.

“I will no longer be voting for Scalise. I don’t even think we make it to the floor.”

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A succession of Republicans have announced that they have no plans to support Scalise, and some strategists believe the opposition from his own party may still number up to 30 lawmakers.

Jordan’s defeat was a blow for his most high-profile sponsor, former president Donald Trump, who told Fox News Radio the New Orleans native should focus on bouncing back from the blood cancer diagnosis he revealed in August rather than seeking higher office.

“I mean, he’s got to get better for himself. I’m not talking about even country now. I’m saying he’s got to get better. And this is tremendous stress,” Trump said.

Scalise, who has spent a decade climbing the ranks of the leadership, is likely to be given a few days to win the gavel before being cast adrift in favour of a fallback option.

Detractors have voiced anger over the way he helped kill proposed reforms to the nomination process. Others are concerned that he cannot unite the party or are simply sore that McCarthy was ousted and their preferred replacement lost.

Allies say it is too early to count out Scalise, reasoning that the objections are all strategic or policy-related and can be overcome — and that there is none of the personal animus the party’s right wing directed at McCarthy.

On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has called for a “bipartisan governing coalition” in the House, although Republicans have given no sign that they’d ever consider it. — AFP

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