‘Dysfunction’: Congress paralysed as Republicans tussle over new House Speaker

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Washington: Bitterly divided Republicans have lashed out at one another while they scramble to find a replacement for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, demanding those who ousted him be held accountable and warning that the infighting could cost their majority at next year’s election.

And as the shockwaves reverberated in Washington, President Joe Biden has urged Republicans to quickly elect a new Speaker and admitted that “the dysfunction always concerns me”.

Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as Speaker of the HouseCredit: AP

Biden also moved to reassure allied countries that America remains committed to Ukraine despite the Republican conflict causing jitters that military aid to Ukraine could be upended.

Those concerns intensified on Wednesday when House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, a Trump ally who is overseeing the impeachment inquiry against Biden, became the first person to throw his hat in the ring to replace McCarthy.

Asked if he was willing to move forward with an aid package for Ukraine if he got the job, he replied: “I’m against that.”

House judiciary chair Jim JordanCredit: EPA

“The most pressing issue in American’s minds is not Ukraine. It is the border situation and it is crime on the streets,” he told reporters.

With $US24 billion in additional future funding for Ukraine now in limbo, Biden spoke to the leaders of allied countries ahead of the vote, reiterating America’s support for Ukraine and warning that wavering could embolden Russia.

He is also preparing to give a major speech in coming days, where he will make the case that “it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America that Ukraine succeed”.

“The majority of the American people still support Ukraine and the majority of the members of Congress – both Democrat and Republican – support it, so I don’t think we should let their gamesmanship getting in the way of blocking it,” he said at the White House.

Tuesday’s historic vote to remove McCarthy – driven by the grievances of a small group of Republicans – marked the first time in US history a Speaker has been ousted from the job.

But with Congress in paralysis – and members not returning until Tuesday to sort out the Republican leadership – there are growing fears about the chaos, which comes only 40 days before the US government is expected to run out of money unless a shutdown can be averted.

McCarthy announced on Tuesday night that he would not seek to run for the job again, paving the way for some of his allies to replace him. Jordan’s announcement came first, soon followed by Steve Scalise, the House Majority Leader and second-highest ranking person in the chamber.

Scalise has a broader coalition of support among members and has been more supportive of Ukraine in the past, but there are some questions about his health given he is undergoing chemotherapy to treat multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy confers with Minority Whip Steve Scalise, left, before an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the House chamber, at the Capitol in Washington in December.Credit: AP

Some far-right Republicans have also called for Donald Trump to take the job (as the US speaker does not have to be a current serving member of Congress) but the former president he has made it clear that his focus was to win the White House.

“We have some great people in the Republican Party who could do a great job,” Trump said in New York ahead of the third day of his fraud trial. “My sole focus is being president and making America great again.”

Whoever replaces McCarthy will inevitably face the same challenges he did over the past nine months as he sought to run a narrow five seat majority in a tumultuous chamber filled with power-hungry hardliners.

Among them is Florida firebrand Matt Gaetz, who led the mutiny using a “motion to vacate” rule that he and other far-right Republicans got McCarthy to agree to in January, in exchange for their support to become Speaker.

Matt Gaetz, who led the charge to oust Kevin McCarthy Credit: AP

As the dust settled on Wednesday morning, many Republicans were furious – both at Democrats and their party colleagues who joined with them to ensure McCarthy was toppled.

“What we saw from Matt Gaetz was one of the greatest acts of heresy that I’ve seen in a while,” said Long Island Republican Anthony D’Esposito, whose district is vulnerable to the Democrats at the next election.

“He’s literally taken one of our oldest institutions and put it into a downward spiral – all over selfish needs. All over Twitter feeds and raising money (through fundraising over the coup).”

However, Democrats also refused to save McCarthy’s speakership by voting with him, angered that McCarthy had launched the impeachment inquiry into Biden and had continued to support Trump in the wake of the January 6 Capitol attack.

Representative Annie Kuster, chair of the New Democrat Coalition, said she was surprised McCarthy didn’t try to broker a deal with Democrats, noting that the party was prepared to change House rules that were “threatening the wellbeing of Congress functioning in a rational way”.

“You know what he brought? Nothing,” she told CNN. “He did not think that he needed that, and this is the result.”

In the Senate chamber, Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned the next speaker to “think carefully about what happened to your predecessors before trying to cobble the hard right.” This was a reference to McCarthy as well as former Republican speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, both of whom stepped down after internal dissent.

“Each of your predecessors got burned each time,” Schumer said. “I urge the next speaker to not make the same mistake – not just for their own future, but for the country’s.”

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