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HomeworldRepublicans regroup after infighting ends Tom Emmer's US House speaker bid

Republicans regroup after infighting ends Tom Emmer's US House speaker bid

WASHINGTON: United States Representative Tom Emmer abandoned his bid to lead the House of Representatives just hours after his fellow Republicans nominated him on Tuesday (Oct 24), as the party infighting that has paralysed Congress for over three weeks showed no sign of letting up.

Representatives Kevin Hern, one of about six representatives who said they were interested in the job in the latest round, dropped his bid for the speakership late Tuesday. He endorsed rival Mike Johnson, both of whom had lost to Emmer in a closed-door party vote earlier in the day.

“I stepped aside,” Hern told reporters, calling his former rival “a person everybody could trust”.

The House is now in its 22nd day without a leader, which means lawmakers have been unable to respond to the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, or take steps to head off a partial government shutdown that would begin on Nov 18 without congressional action.

Emmer, who serves as the No. 3 Republican in the House, was the third lawmaker to see his bid to succeed Kevin McCarthy collapse, after the former speaker was ousted by a small group of fellow Republicans on Oct 3 for brokering a deal with Democrats to head off a government shutdown.

Like Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan before him, Emmer’s prospects were doomed by a relatively small group of holdouts who denied him the 217 votes he would need to win the speaker’s gavel. That high threshold and the party’s narrow 221-212 majority means that any candidate can afford to lose just four votes if Democrats remain united in opposition.

Emmer abruptly left an afternoon meeting and walked out of the building without answering questions.

Republicans said they had no choice but to try again.

“We’ve got to go back and get another slate of nominees and let them work through the process and see who our next nominee will be, just like we did last night and today,” Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer told reporters.

Lawmakers said they plan to hold an evening forum to hear from more hopefuls, as they did on Monday night.

“I thought Tom was well-respected until he said he’d run for speaker. It turns out you find out who your enemies are real quick with this job,” Representative Kelly Armstrong told reporters.

Hern, from Oklahoma, serves as chairman of the influential conservative Republican Study Committee. Johnson is a conservative constitutional law attorney from Louisiana who has billed himself as a “team player and a bridge builder.”

Byron Donalds, Chuck Fleischmann, Mark Green and Roger Williams also put their names forward.

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TRUMP OPPOSITION

Emmer has a more moderate record than many other House Republicans. Unlike many in his party, he voted to certify Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over Republican Donald Trump following the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.

Trump urged Republicans to oppose Emmer after he won the nomination.

Trump early this month had backed Jordan’s bid for the speakership, but Republicans gave up on his attempt last week after Jordan lost three floor votes.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans have broken the Congress,” top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries said on social media, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “The American people are paying the price. We must pursue a bipartisan path forward and reopen the House.”

Before that, No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise dropped his own bid when he was unable to line up enough votes to win the job.

Neither McCarthy nor Jordan managed to line up 217 Republican votes. Scalise secured the nomination with 113 votes on Oct 11, while Jordan got 124 votes in a second nomination vote two days later.

Democrats have said they are open to a compromise candidate that would allow the chamber to function. Many Republicans have said on principle that they would not back somebody who had support from the opposition party.

The infighting has left the House unable to respond to Biden’s US$106 billion request for aid to Israel, Ukraine and US border security. Congress will also have to act before a Nov 17 deadline to fund the US government and avert a partial shutdown.

The uncertainty has also helped to push up the US government’s borrowing costs. The government posted a record US$1.7 trillion deficit for the most recent fiscal year, in part due to higher interest payments.

Some Republicans have voiced growing frustration with the long struggle to pick a new speaker.

“Pretty sad commentary on our governance right now,” Representative Steve Womack told reporters.

“I think it is apparent to the American people that the GOP conference is hopelessly divided,” Womack said. “Can it be overcome? Never say never. But the signs are right now that this conference is at some kind of an impasse.” 

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