McCarthy may jump into U.S. House speaker race, as crises overseas mount

Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks about the Hamas attack on Israel during a news conference in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 9, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans will gather behind closed doors beginning Monday night in an attempt to decide who should become the chamber’s next speaker, a race with a renewed sense of urgency with ally Israel now at war and the House in paralysis.

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise and Ohio’s Jim Jordan are the only candidates officially campaigning for the gavel, though California’s Kevin McCarthy, who was removed from the role just last week, left the door open to taking on the job once again.

“That’s a decision for the (House Republican) conference,” McCarthy said during a Monday morning press conference. Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern, another potential candidate, said over the weekend he would not seek the post.

House Republicans are set to meet both Monday night and Tuesday in private to discuss where the party should go in the months ahead and who should lead them. They are expected to vote behind closed doors on Wednesday on who should become the next speaker, though no floor vote following that has yet been scheduled. In the meantime, the House has no schedule set for usual floor business such as considering bills.

Much of McCarthy’s speech sounded like one he would have given if he were still speaker, laying out a five-point plan for how the United States should respond to the attacks on Israel and criticizing President Joe Biden for not doing what McCarthy believes he should.

Biden said in a written statement that at least 11 Americans have been killed with others taken hostage.

“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” Biden said. “I have directed my team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”

“For American citizens who are currently in Israel, the State Department is providing consular assistance as well as updated security alerts,” Biden added. “For those who desire to leave, commercial flights and ground options are still available. Please also take sensible precautions in the days ahead and follow the guidance of local authorities.”

McCarthy advised House Republicans not to cave to a small group who ousted him last week, voting with all Democrats. McCarthy was able to become speaker in January because he made concessions to a group of hard-right Republicans, including agreeing to allowing a motion to vacate by a single member — the procedure that stripped him of his position.

“Is our conference just gonna select somebody to try to throw them out in another 35 days if eight people don’t get 100% of what they want and 96% of the conference does?” he said. “For the idea that you allow eight people to continue to do that with no consequences, no one’s gonna be successful.”

While McCarthy did not deny that he would run again for speaker, he reiterated that he is a “conservative that believes in governing in a conservative way.”

With the war in Israel, McCarthy stressed that the U.S. needs to stand with its allies to “counter this axis of power,” citing Russia, China and Iran, an ally of Hamas. McCarthy specifically called out Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but stopped short of supporting supplemental aid to Ukraine, and instead called for border security.

Of the two candidates running for the speaker’s gavel, Scalise originally backed aid to Ukraine, though Jordan voted against it. Both have voted against the last two aid bills, though that funding was included in large packages that included other provisions.

Speaker pro tem questions

McCarthy on Monday also appeared to lay the groundwork for the House operating longer without an elected speaker, saying that there could be a path forward for the speaker pro tempore to do more than North Carolina’s Patrick McHenry has done while in the role. McHenry is McCarthy’s handpicked successor under a procedure established after the 9/11 attacks.

“I think at a moment in time our conference needs to decide who should lead,” McCarthy said.

If that can’t be decided, “we shouldn’t sit back” and allow that situation to continue, he said.

The role of speaker pro tempore created in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks was designed to bolster continuity of government following a catastrophic event, though there is some debate about how much power that role actually holds.

In their meetings, House Republicans are likely to discuss the so-called motion to vacate that currently allows one member of the chamber to force a vote on keeping or removing the speaker. Florida’s Matt Gaetz used that last week to force McCarthy out.

Some House Republicans have called for changing the House rules to increase the number of lawmakers needed to call for a vote to remove the speaker.

Scalise, Jordan and Israel

Neither Scalise nor Jordan made public speeches on Monday in the way McCarthy did, though both have expressed support for Israel.

Scalise, currently House majority leader, wrote on X over the weekend that the “United States will always stand with Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East. They must defend themselves as their citizens are slaughtered by Hamas terrorists. They have our full support and our prayers.”

“The videos coming out of Israel are horrific,” Scalise wrote. “We cannot allow anyone to lie about what’s happening here or call it anything other than what it is: terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians and war waged on our ally. Period.”

Jordan, chair of the Judiciary Committee, posted on X on Sunday that the United States should help Israel by supplying military aid.

“Rockets are raining down on Israeli towns right now. We need to immediately help replenish Israel’s stockpile of Iron Dome missiles to protect more innocent civilians from getting killed. Let’s make sure Congress can unite and assure Israel has what it needs to destroy Hamas,” Jordan wrote.

White House meetings

Biden met Monday with top officials, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall and White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, according to a White House pool report.

“He directed his team to follow up on coordination with Israel on all aspects of the crisis and to continue their work with regional partners to warn anyone who might seek to take advantage in this situation,” according to the pool report.

Biden was planning to speak with “close allies about the latest developments in Israel,” according to the report.

State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller confirmed Monday that nine Americans were killed in Israel.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and to the families of all those affected,” Miller said.

Miller added that there are unaccounted Americans and that the State Department is “working with our Israeli partners to determine their whereabouts.”

Finer said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday that the administration would seek to provide military aid to Israel, but was vague about what form the aid would take.

“We expect more U.S. steps to show support and solidarity for Israel will unfold” in the coming days and weeks, Finer said.

McCarthy supporters speak out

On Capitol Hill, several of McCarthy’s allies were publicly calling for him to join the race for speaker, though the GOP lawmakers who voted to remove him just last week said the numbers wouldn’t be there during a floor vote.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Florida Republican, said on Fox News on Monday that he hopes McCarthy runs again for speaker.

“I would hope that the speaker (McCarthy) would reconsider, put his name in the hat and we could move on, get past this episode and put him back where he belongs,” Gimenez said.

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, who voted to remove McCarthy last week, criticized him for not focusing more on defense funding.

“If the former Speaker had spent as much time going after Chuck Schumer for not taking up our DoD military spending bill as he is attacking other Republicans, he wouldn’t be the former Speaker,” Mace wrote on X.

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Jennifer Shutt
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