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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House GOP sees speaker vote on track as Israel adds to urgency

Former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)  (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Gregory Korte and Alicia Diaz Bloomberg News

House Republicans predicted Sunday they will have a new speaker in place by midweek after closed-door debates intended to avoid the messy 15-round process that led to the election of now-deposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy in January.

The speaker election took on new urgency this weekend after Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing at least 600 people and prompting calls for more U.S. assistance. Without a speaker, the House cannot conduct legislative business even with bipartisan support for Israel in the chamber.

It’s unclear what aid might need congressional approval.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that there was “a tremendous amount” of assistance already in the pipeline under an Obama-era agreement that provides Israel with $3.8 billion a year in defense aid. But he said Israel has also asked for specific additional help.

“As a general proposition, it would be very important to make sure that we have both houses of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, in a place where they can clearly show and express their support for Israel, especially in this hour of need,” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And so that’s something we want to see, and we hope that that happens quickly.”

The contenders for House speaker were reduced to two on Saturday, after Oklahoma Representative Kevin Hern said he wouldn’t join the contest, saying a three-way race would only drag out the process.

“House Republicans must unify – and do it fast,” he said in a letter to colleagues.

That leaves Jim Jordan, of Ohio, and Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, as the only declared contenders. Jordan is the House Judiciary Committee Chairman who has the support of former President Donald Trump, while Scalise is a top McCarthy lieutenant and House majority leader.

Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina, one of eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to oust McCarthy last week, said Sunday on the X social media site that she would support Jordan, calling him “true to his word” and “a workhorse.”

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, another of the eight, didn’t commit to a favorite. But he said the process should play out behind closed doors to tamp down the chaos of an open fight on the House floor.

“It’s better to play out in private where the cameras aren’t on – and we don’t have people trying to get attention over certain issues – than it is going out on the floor and having a series of debates,” Buck said on ABC’s This Week.

“For those folks that think we are projecting a chaotic image, it makes a lot more sense to do this behind closed doors and get it finished before we go to the floor,” he said.

Representative Matt Gaetz, the instigator of the effort to remove McCarthy, said he’d listen to both Jordan and Scalise before deciding whom to support in the conference – but then would vote for whoever his fellow Republicans rallied around when the nomination goes to the full House.

Gaetz rejected McCarthy’s assertion Saturday that a speakerless House of Representatives raises “a doubt around the world” about American leadership.

“I don’t think that other countries think about Kevin McCarthy’s speakership quite as much as Kevin McCarthy does,” Gaetz said.