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Washington in limbo as House marks 15th day without speaker

Washington in limbo as House marks 15th day without speaker
Published October 19, 2023 Updated October 19, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

WASHINGTON — United States (US) lawmakers rejected hard-line conservative Jim Jordan’s bid for speaker of the House of Representatives for a second time on Wednesday (Oct 18), as the leadership vacuum paralysed Washington for a 15th day with no clear resolution in sight.

The lower chamber of Congress has been in a tailspin since Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted by his party’s far-right on Oct 3 — leaving it unable to address a looming government shutdown or war in the Middle East.

Mr Jordan, an acolyte of scandal-engulfed Donald Trump, could only afford to lose four Republican votes, but 22 of his colleagues rejected his candidacy in the second ballot — two more than were against him a day earlier.

The Israel-Hamas conflict, a renewed push for aid to Ukraine and the threat of a government shutdown have dramatically upped the stakes, with Republicans hoping the urgent need for Congress to respond would unite the fractured party.

But Mr Jordan’s centrist colleagues, already wary of his hard-right politics, voiced irritation over a concerted effort to whip extra votes for the 59-year-old former wrestling champion. 

“Each day that passes without a speaker of the House is a national security risk,” said Jordan supporter and California Republican David Valadao.

“I voted for the Republican Conference’s nominee for speaker because we must get back to work, and we cannot do that until we have a speaker.”

Mr Jordan’s second defeat compounded the angst over Republican disarray, prompting a growing group of lawmakers — including Mr Valadao — to push for the limited powers of the current, largely ceremonial caretaker speaker to be expanded.

But Mr Jordan showed no signs of dropping out, as his spokesman Russell Dye vowed to reporters that the congressman would “keep going”, with the next round expected on Thursday. 


Mr Jordan’s tally of 199 votes marked the first time in a century that the majority’s nominee had dipped under 200.

The powerful Judiciary Committee chairman will be expected to show significant improvement in the third round of voting, yet the holdouts appear to be dug in.

His Republican opponents met after voting against him for the first time Tuesday and nearly all reaffirmed their objections, with some predicting Mr Jordan would only haemorrhage more support.

The Ohio lawmaker has little of the goodwill among the rank-and-file that his predecessor spent years cultivating, and it is unlikely that he would be allowed the 15 rounds of voting that it took Mr McCarthy to get elected.

Party strategists worry that Mr Jordan going backwards could herald days of further deadlock, as there is no obvious alternative with the support and the profile to corral a party that has become synonymous with division and dysfunction.

“Why run for the mayor of a city that’s just been nuked?” asked online politics outlet Punchbowl News.

There is momentum behind a push to formally appoint caretaker speaker Patrick McHenry for a limited period of two or three months — expanding his purely ceremonial powers so that he can bring legislation to the floor. 

Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries did not publicly commit to backing the move as he headed to a party meeting after voting, although he has not ruled it out.

“We had two objectives coming into this meeting. First objective, to stop Jim Jordan… Second objective is to reopen the House,” he said.

But Scott Perry, chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said empowering Mr McHenry would be “a vote to keep you broke, and Washington broken”. 

“I told you — no matter what — I won’t vote for the status quo, and I’m keeping my word,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. AFP