The race to replace ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy took shape on Wednesday as Steve Scalise, the chamber’s No.2 Republican, and Jim Jordan, a leading antagonist of Democratic President Joe Biden, said they would seek the post.
The two lawmakers could be joined by several other candidates in what could be a lengthy and likely messy battle to fill the post in the House where Republicans hold a majority.
Republican lawmakers emerging from a private meeting mainly named the two as leading candidates.
Tuesday’s historic removal of McCarthy, driven by a rebellious faction of Republicans, marked the first time the chamber has removed its leader from a position that is second in line to the president after the vice president.
Republicans have set an Oct. 11 vote to choose a successor and are due to meet the day before to hear from their candidates.
The leadership fight is eating into the time lawmakers have to extend government spending before it expires on Nov. 18 and update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, among other tasks.
Scalise, who has been getting treatment for cancer, has long been considered McCarthy’s heir apparent and has been meeting privately with Republicans to build support for his bid. He is seen as more conservative than McCarthy.
He was critically wounded in 2017 when a man who had criticized Republicans on social media shot him and other party lawmakers as they were practicing for a baseball game.
“We all need to come together and pull in the same direction to get the country back on the right track,” he wrote in a letter to Republicans.
Jordan, 59, a former college wrestler who has led investigations of the Biden administration, first gained prominence as a leader of the party’s right wing before eventually forming an alliance with McCarthy. He is known for eschewing suit jackets and is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump.
As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he is involved in the impeachment investigation into Biden and has tangled with state prosecutors who have filed criminal cases against Trump.
Jordan highlighted his leading role in a bill that would dramatically tighten immigration, calling it “the most significant legislation this Congress.” That bill has passed the House but gotten nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“We can focus on the changes that improve the country and unite us in offering real solutions. But no matter what we do, we must do it together as a conference,” he wrote to Republicans.
Representative Kevin Hern, who leads a policy group for conservative lawmakers, also said he was considering a speakership bid.
“I think we need to be pointing our guns outward, not at each other,” he told reporters.
Representative Patrick McHenry is temporarily serving as speaker following McCarthy’s removal.
WORRIES ABOUT GOVERNANCE
McCarthy’s ouster is the latest factor causing Wall Street to worry about U.S. political governance, following the near-miss with a partial federal government shutdown this weekend and congressional Republicans’ flirtation with defaulting on the government’s $31.4 trillion in debt earlier this year.
Those concerns, alongside worries about interest rates, have played a role in a sustained sell-off in government bonds.
The speaker’s job has proven challenging for Republicans in recent years. The last Republican speaker, Paul Ryan, retired from Congress after struggling to work with Trump, a fellow Republican. His predecessor John Boehner left after clashes with the party’s right wing.
McCarthy, who led a narrow 221-212 majority, made the job even more difficult for himself.
During 15 grueling rounds of voting on his bid for the speakership in January, he agreed to change House rules to allow any one member of Congress to call for the speaker’s ouster, setting the stage for Representative Matt Gaetz to do just that.
“We can’t put a new speaker in place with this structure. It’s completely dysfunctional,” Representative Garret Graves, a key McCarthy ally, told reporters.
The entire House – Republicans and Democrats – vote for speaker, who would hold the position until early January 2025, unless they were deposed as well. Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries is expected to run against any Republican candidate nominated by the party conference, as he did in January.
Congress is struggling to fund the government in the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Four days ago, lawmakers narrowly averted a partial government shutdown that would have stopped pay for more than 4 million federal workers and shuttered a wide range of federal programs.
McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a stopgap spending bill which angered Gaetz and other hard-right Republicans.