Republican lawmakers returning to Washington this week will do so without a House speaker, setting up a high-pressure situation to reach consensus on a candidate to wield the gavel – and the power to push through support for Israel.
While Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina serves as the acting speaker after the historic ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy last week, he has little power outside of recessing, adjourning or recognizing speaker nominations.
Two candidates have stepped up to fill the vacuum: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump. Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern announced Saturday that he had decided not to run.
Neither man starts the week with anywhere near the votes needed to claim the top spot, so here’s what to watch as the race unfolds:
Who are the candidates?
Jim Jordan: The powerful chair of the Judiciary Committee and a founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus secured Trump’s backing last week. (The former president’s intervention came after he expressed openness to temporarily serving in the role himself and had considered a visit to Capitol Hill to speak with Republicans, but he is no longer expected to make that trip.) Jordan has been a key figure in high-profile House GOP-led investigations.
Steve Scalise: As the No. 2 House Republican after the speaker, Scalise has been a prominent figure in the conference and had long been seen as either a potential successor, or rival, to McCarthy. Before he became majority leader, Scalise served as House GOP whip, a role focused on vote counting and ensuring support for key party priorities. The majority leader, his current role, oversees the House floor and schedules legislation for votes.
The jockeying for votes: Scalise met virtually with the House Freedom Caucus on Sunday afternoon as he tries to lock down support ahead of a secret-ballot leadership election Wednesday to nominate a candidate for speaker, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move comes after Jordan met with the same group on Friday.
Both lawmakers have also been making a direct pitch to more centrist members, insisting they will make their reelection battles a priority and ensure more stability atop the badly divided conference, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
By CNN’s count, just over 60 members have publicly endorsed so far, with many more indicating they will keep their powder dry for now. Jordan racked up some notable endorsements over the weekend, mostly from the far-right faction.
Read more about the race for a new House speaker.