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With no peacemaker in GOP, maybe a deadline would end speaker stalemate

Think the drama couldn't last another month? Think again.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, writes a note as he makes his way to a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Thursday.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, writes a note as he makes his way to a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The president went to a war zone in the Middle East and urged Israelis to resist being overcome by rage. One wonders if he — or anyone — could bring peace to the House Republican Conference, which is a hotbed of a different kind of rage?

House Republicans spent much of Thursday behind closed doors yelling at one another as they could not reach consensus on pushing pause on their prolonged speaker fight by trying to cut a deal with Democrats to give Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., more powers to run the chamber.

It was perhaps the most dramatic day of the speaker drama, a conundrum for which no one in Washington has a solution, with members saying they have been getting death threats.

Biden was asked during his travels about Rep. Jim Jordan’s attempts to get the 217 votes on the floor to secure the gavel. “I ache for him,” the Democratic president said in his sometimes-deadpan style.

Some Senate Republicans gave the president high marks for even going to the war zone, which, to borrow a phrase from the 1986 film “Top Gun,” made Air Force One the top target in a “target-rich environment.” But Biden, the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Air Force and Israeli security agencies pulled off the brazen diplomatic visit. The president who ran on his decades of foreign policy experience told reporters coming back on the executive jet that he achieved a major objective of the risky trek.

“I was very blunt about the need to get humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Biden said of his discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had an icy relationship before the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israeli civilians. “I got no pushback.”

White House officials and Biden’s Democratic allies in the Senate continue saying the president who was a Capitol Hill staple for nearly 40 years has nothing to say that might help House Republicans settle on a speaker candidate who could secure the gavel.

“Oh no. Right now, the House Republicans are going to have to figure out who they want their speaker to be,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a former House Democratic leadership team member. “It is hurting the country. It’s up to them.”

As Biden jetted into a place where over 10,000 high-powered munitions have been fired back and forth this month, House Republicans were firing verbal grenades back and forth all week.

There simply may be no peacemaker — or legitimate duly elected speaker candidate among them.

House members twice have responded to speaker vote notices, traversing tunnels connecting office buildings with the famed domed structure or by bounding up the House chamber stairs in the suddenly autumn weather. Once inside, round and round the House roster they went. But to no avail.

When will the search for an elected speaker stop? Nobody knows.

Jordan, R-Ohio, took his bid for the gavel to the floor in an apparent effort to try wearing down his remaining detractors. Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., nominated Jordan on the week’s first ballot with an impassioned speech. It didn’t work, however, as he fell well short. On Wednesday, it was the widely respected House Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., who did the nominating. That also didn’t work, with Jordan getting even fewer votes. Who will get the nod on Friday, when Jordan will try again?

[House to try again on Jordan speaker vote amid determined opposition]

Jordan acknowledged to reporters Thursday afternoon that there still are 20 opponents to his bid, far more than the four GOP members he could afford to lose and still win a floor vote. With Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., already out, Jordan facing a potentially insurmountable math problem and efforts to boost McHenry on ice, who’s left?

What about former Republican Speakers John A. Boehner of Ohio or Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin? After all, Boehner received one floor vote on Wednesday. What’s that? Oh, right, both were nudged toward the exit by the same conservative bloc that joined Democrats earlier this month in ousting McCarthy.

So far, no failed candidate for speaker this time has channeled his inner Boehner in song. The always-tan Boehner in 2015 sang “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da” as he entered a Capitol television studio to announce his retirement after repeated clashes with House Freedom Caucus members.

Jordan has shown little ability to do what most speakers have spent lots of time doing when it was time to pass legislation — and while trying to become speaker in the first place.

“If you’ve wondered why … Jordan has never passed a piece of legislation in his 16 years in the House of Representatives, you’re getting a real time explanation by watching his campaign to become speaker,” Teagan Goddard, publisher of the Political Wire website, wrote this week. “He has no idea how to build a coalition.”

So far, no one has stepped forward for the top House job who could build the 217-vote coalition needed to secure the gavel.

Then again, perhaps not having a duly elected speaker is not an emergency right now.

“Everyone knows we don’t do much around here without a deadline,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Wednesday. The late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., often offered reporters the same advice. The analysis is correct — just consider how lawmakers have treated government shutdown and debt ceiling deadlines for the last 15 years.

So perhaps the real deadline for getting an elected speaker is weeks away.

Perhaps it’s the day after the Senate passes its version of the White House’s coming emergency spending request, which could be in the ballpark of $100 billion or more with aid dollars for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan — and possibly other funding elements, such as border security and disaster aid.

But it is more likely Nov. 17, the date government funding is set to, yet again, run out.

House Republicans still have plenty of time on that clock to find the peacemaker among their so badly fractured conference. Despite his Middle East diplomatic dance, don’t expect Biden to get involved.

But if House Republicans remain deadlocked in a month, Democrats said, to borrow a Biden-ism, that would be malarkey. Or worse: reminiscent of daytime television shows built around paternity tests and on-camera brawls.

“Like I’ve said,” Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., told reporters minutes after Jordan’s second bid failed on the House floor, “governance is not the [Jerry] Springer show.”

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