‘Are we screwed?’: Anguished House GOP seeks fourth speaker pick

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Their third speaker pick in three weeks lasted barely four hours. Now, with their desperation on full display, Republicans are trying again.

The House GOP is convening Tuesday night for its fourth internal huddle of the day as it hears from yet another unwieldy field of candidates to lead its broken ranks. No one has demonstrated the ability to do what the three previous failed speaker hopefuls couldn’t: unite enough Republicans to land 217 votes on the floor.

Two members of tonight’s five-man field have already run and lost. That includes Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the second highest vote-getter earlier Tuesday.

There’s little hope for relief among the bitterly divided GOP, where the fruitless search for a speaker has become so miserable that some members even floated a return to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy — with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as an “assistant speaker.” (The idea has not been taken seriously inside the conference.) Others are again mulling ways to empower acting Speaker Patrick McHenry, maybe even without a formal vote on the floor, an idea that risks significant constitutional challenges.

“It’s going to get more and more difficult to move forward in this process. The animosity is high. The tension is high but we have to put that aside,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said.

Republicans now plan to hold their next internal vote for speaker nominee Tuesday evening, with some — like Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who helped oust McCarthy earlier this month — saying they’re even willing to do it at “three or four o’clock” in the morning. One member, Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, suggested that a late-night session could speed up the process for choosing a speaker as “people get tired.” (The full House, having adjourned, can’t actually vote until at least noon Wednesday.)

In reality, though, many Republicans fear they’ve reached the point where no candidate can get 217 votes on the floor — which means losing no more than four GOP votes. The fracture began even before eight members voted with Democrats to boot McCarthy on Oct 3. Some believe the break is now unfixable.

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

Womack then suggested that Republicans should work to empower McHenry, even if it means testing the “constitutional limits” of his powers — a suggestion that the institutionalist Republican said he doesn’t make lightly.

“It’s sad. I’m sad. I’m heartbroken. Lots of really, really good people left in the wake here,” Womack added.

A visibly frustrated Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) put it another way, calling out the conservative who originally moved to oust McCarthy: “Are we screwed? Ask Matt Gaetz that question.”

He later said he didn’t believe any of Tuesday night’s candidate could get to 217.

Miller belongs to a freshman class that has seen unfathomable levels of turmoil within the House GOP since electing McCarthy for speaker on the 15th ballot earlier this year. In the months after, a gang of GOP hardliners moved to paralyze the floor multiple times to protest McCarthy — before some of those same members ultimately triggered his ousting earlier this month. That final play came after McCarthy moved to prevent a government shutdown on Sept. 30 — while setting up another deadline that’s now less than a month away.

And it’s that looming Nov. 17 funding deadline that’s making House Republicans even more anxious. Without a speaker, the chamber can’t conduct any business on the floor — even if the GOP conference were able to agree on passing its own spending bills.

The deadline carries another threat: Even if Republicans can elect a speaker before Nov. 17, he may not be able to keep the gavel if he, too, moves to avert a shutdown by forging a compromise plan with Democrats.

Whether that glaring leadership vacuum is filled by then, however, is anyone’s guess.

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), who ran his own short-lived speaker bid earlier Tuesday, said this on whether anyone can get 217 votes: “if I knew that, I’d be in Vegas.”

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