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Monday, April 22, 2024

Work on Funding Foreign, Humanitarian Aid at Standstill Amid US House Turmoil

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The U.S. Congress is at a standstill Wednesday, with its lower house paralyzed by the ousting of its speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and lawmakers facing a deadline six weeks away to approve spending bills and avoid a partial government shutdown.

The lack of a functioning House of Representatives, and the prospects of losing more days to identifying and electing a speaker candidate who can garner enough support, leaves in limbo several important spending bills, including those providing for foreign military financing, international humanitarian aid and efforts to counter China’s influence.

Lawmakers in the Republican-majority House are not expected to hold any further votes this week.

Instead, Republicans will discuss who might lead the narrowly divided chamber through a period that will require agreement not only among themselves, but eventually with the Democrat-led Senate before the spending bills can be sent to Democratic President Joe Biden for his signature.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a conservative firebrand known for frequently taunting opposition Democrats, said he will seek the speakership, with other Republican lawmakers likely to follow.

There is no requirement that the House speaker already be a member of the chamber, although by tradition the speaker is an elected lawmaker.

But former President Donald Trump, who is running in the 2024 election to reclaim the White House, told reporters, “A lot of people have been calling me about speaker. All I can say is we’ll do whatever is best for the country and the Republican Party.”

Recent history suggests selecting the new speaker may not be a quick process. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted Tuesday, needed 15 rounds of voting in January to earn the post.

He had to make several concessions to conservative holdouts in his party, including a rule that a single lawmaker could call for a vote to remove him as speaker.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz brought such a motion Monday, expressing frustration in McCarthy’s leadership after McCarthy failed to pass a government funding bill last week with conservative spending priorities and then on Saturday relying on Democratic votes to fund the government through mid-November.

The slim Republican majority in the House meant that Gaetz needed only a handful of Republicans to vote along with a unanimous bloc of Democrats to oust McCarthy in the 216-210 vote. All but eight Republicans voted to keep McCarthy as speaker.

It was the first time in U.S. history that House members had voted to remove the speaker.

While eligible to seek the role again, McCarthy announced Tuesday night he would not seek reelection to the speakership.

“I can continue to fight, maybe in a different manner, and will not run for speaker again,” McCarthy told reporters.

As in the recent negotiations on averting a federal government shutdown, the slim Republican majority in the House meant that Democrats had the numbers to influence the vote on McCarthy.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to Democrats Tuesday morning, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries urged his caucus to vote to remove McCarthy from the speakership.

“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same. It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said in the letter.

McCarthy spoke with Jeffries Monday night. McCarthy said he told Jeffries, “You guys do whatever you need to do.

I get politics. I understand where people are. I truly believe, though, in the institution of the House at the end of the day.

If you throw a speaker out that has 99% of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place for how we’re going to run Congress.”

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