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Republicans in the paralyzed House hear from two candidates for speaker

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

First, we start in Washington, where House Republicans meet tonight to hear from the two declared candidates for speaker of the House. The closed-door forum comes as members are divided on the path forward. That's after eight GOP lawmakers joined all Democrats last week to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker. There's new urgency to find a consensus. Without a speaker, the House is paralyzed. Meanwhile, President Biden urged Congress to act swiftly to support Israel following the attack by Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack.

PFEIFFER: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now from the Capitol. Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: So the two candidates for speaker make their pitches tonight to lawmakers. Tell us about their strategies.

WALSH: Well, both candidates are conservative, and both say they can unify House Republicans. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise from Louisiana - he's running, touting his fundraising ability. In the last five years, Scalise has given about $7 million to Republican members and candidates, and he's raised another $50 million for the House Republicans' campaign arm. Scalise has also been in House Republican leadership for about a decade. The other declared candidate is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan. He's a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. He has a lot of support from conservatives. He was also endorsed by President Trump. Jordan told our colleague Lexie Schapitl from NPR that he's talking about how he can bring people together and how he can communicate the Republican agenda to the American people.

JIM JORDAN: I'm going to lay out what I think we got to do in the next 75 days, too. It's one thing to be unified. It's another thing to be unified around a plan. You need to be unified for a purpose.

WALSH: Both Scalise and Jordan have lists of public supporters, but there's really no overwhelming favorite right now. And some House Republicans don't really think either one has enough votes to win right now.

PFEIFFER: Then what about the former speaker, Kevin McCarthy?

WALSH: He hasn't endorsed anyone to serve as his successor. There are some House Republicans who want to nominate him again and argue that McCarthy has the most broad support. McCarthy said after he was ousted, he would not run. But now he said it's up to the conference on who gets elected as speaker. He's not actively campaigning. But the fact that some members are still out there talking about him shows that they have concerns about Scalise and Jordan.

PFEIFFER: Deirdre, the election is slated for tomorrow. How will it work, and when could we see a vote by the full House?

WALSH: It's unclear when the full House vote will happen. You know, tomorrow morning they'll have a closed-door leadership election. Those are done by secret ballot. A vote on the floor could come later, as early as tomorrow. But one thing many House Republicans want to avoid is another big, messy fight in public, like the one in January. I'm sure you remember it took four days and 15 ballots to elect McCarthy.

PFEIFFER: Right.

WALSH: Right. A candidate needs 217 votes to be elected by the full House of Representatives. Some House Republicans want to change their own internal rules so that they would need 217 votes to be nominated before they go to that full public vote on the floor. Some others want to change the rules to get rid of the one that was used to oust McCarthy, where just one lawmaker can move a resolution to oust the speaker.

PFEIFFER: We heard the president push Congress to act to support Israel. But at this point, what, if anything, can Congress do?

WALSH: For now, not much. As you said, the House of Representatives is really paralyzed. No votes can happen. A bipartisan resolution to support Israel and denounce Hamas was introduced today by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and the top Democrat on the panel. It has 390 cosponsors but can't get a vote. Separately, a bill was introduced to give another $2 billion approval for Iron Dome. That's Israel's missile defense system. We do anticipate, when the House does reconvene and has a speaker, Israel will be a top priority.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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