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Republicans begin hunt for new Speaker to replace ousted McCarthy

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Republicans on Capitol Hill began their search for a new leader on Wednesday, a day after a historic rebellion by hardline party members unseated House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and plunged Washington into turmoil.

Jim Jordan, founding member of the rightwing House Freedom Caucus and loyal ally of former US president Donald Trump, was the first Republican lawmaker to enter the race to be McCarthy’s successor. He was followed later on Wednesday by Steve Scalise, the House majority leader and representative from Louisiana.

The election for the next Speaker is not expected to be held until next week. But the contest is likely to again expose the deepening civil war in the Republican party, as lawmakers contend with an increasingly powerful hard-right faction and the long shadow cast by Trump.

In a letter asking colleagues for their support, Jordan said Congress was at a “critical crossroad in our nation’s history”. The Ohio congressman added that it was “time for our Republican conference to come together to keep our promises to Americans”.

Scalise, a stalwart of the Republican House leadership who was until this week McCarthy’s second-in-command, is popular with wide swaths of the Republican conference. In August he revealed that he was undergoing treatment for blood cancer.

Scalise became a household name in 2017, when he was shot and seriously wounded by a leftwing activist at a congressional baseball game. He later made a full recovery from his injuries.

Scalise on Wednesday invoked the shooting in a letter to colleagues announcing his bid for the speakership, calling on the party to “mend the deep wounds that exist within our conference and focus on our objectives so we can get back to work”.

Kevin Hern, a congressman from Oklahoma and leader of the influential Republican Study Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that he was also considering a bid for the speakership.

Some hardline Republican House members, including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, suggested that Trump, the current frontrunner for the party’s nomination for president in 2024, should enter the race.

But it remained unclear whether the former president would want the job — or whether he would be eligible.

The US Constitution does not specify that the Speaker — who is second in the line of presidential succession, behind the vice-president — must be an elected member of Congress. But every Speaker in US history has come from within the House.

Trump told reporters at a New York courthouse where he is facing a civil fraud trial on Wednesday that “a lot of people” had asked him to stand for Speaker, but said his “focus” was “totally” on running for president.

“If I can help them during the process, I would do it,” Trump added. “But we have some great people in the Republican party that could do a great job as Speaker.”

The jockeying underscores the sharp divisions in a Republican party whose infighting has deepened the dysfunction in Washington, where rightwing GOP members last week threatened to halt the federal government’s funding.

It also foreshadows a potentially messy fight for the Speaker’s gavel that comes just as Congress splits over the White House’s request to increase funding for Ukraine and its strategy for dealing with immigration.

Under rules guiding the House, the lower chamber of Congress cannot deal with any legislative business until a new Speaker is elected. 

McCarthy was removed as Speaker in a historic vote on Tuesday afternoon after a rebellion led by Matt Gaetz, a firebrand congressman from Florida, who took issue with the Speaker’s efforts to work with Democrats to avert a government shutdown last weekend.

McCarthy made clear in a press conference after his removal that he would not run for Speaker again. He has not endorsed a successor. 

But McCarthy also warned that Congress was facing a “real institutional problem”, with members of his own party no longer focused on governing.

Gaetz and others did not “have the right” to call themselves conservatives, McCarthy added. “They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and they’re chaotic. That’s not the party I belong to.”    

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