WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) – U.S. Republicans nominated Mike Johnson to lead the House of Representatives on Tuesday, though it was unclear whether he would merely become the latest hopeful to fall victim to party infighting that has paralyzed Congress for over three weeks.
Representative Johnson, of Louisiana, is the fourth Republican this month to win the party’s nomination for the speaker’s chair, which has sat vacant since a small faction of party rebels ousted Kevin McCarthy on Oct. 3.
Republicans’ disarray has left lawmakers 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.
It was not clear whether Johnson would be able to overcome divisions that have tripped up three other candidates who had previously won the party’s nomination. In a sign of those divisions, the second-place finisher in the nominating vote was the ousted McCarthy, who secured 43 votes despite not being a declared candidate.
Tom Emmer, the No. 3 House Republican, won the nomination earlier in the day, only to withdraw hours later due to opposition from the party’s right flank.
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.
“We have no capacity at the moment to come to a verdict, and that is a very distressing place to be,” Representative Marc Molinaro said.
Johnson, a conservative constitutional law attorney, has billed himself as a bridge builder between the various Republican factions. The northwest Louisiana district he represents is one of the poorest in the country.
“He knows everybody very well, does a great job with bringing people to the floor, talking about our policies, and that’s what we need right now,” said Republican Representative Kevin Hern, who withdrew his own bid to support Johnson.
Johnson bested Byron Donalds, Mark Green, Roger Williams and Chuck Fleischmann in the latest Republican speaker nomination fight. In total, 14 Republicans have put their names forward for speaker this month.
Emmer dropped his bid after former President Donald Trump urged Republicans to oppose him. Unlike many in his party, Emmer voted to certify Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.
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.
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.
Democrats have said they are open to a compromise candidate who 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.
“We must pursue a bipartisan path forward and reopen the House,” top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries said on social media.
The uncertainty has also helped to push up the U.S. government’s borrowing costs. The government posted a record $1.7 trillion deficit for the most recent fiscal year, in part due to higher interest payments.
Reporting by Luc Cohen, Richard Cowan, Katharine Jackson, David Morgan, Makini Brice and Julio Cesar-Chavez; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Stephen Coates
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