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McCarthy indicates he would serve again as House speaker if he could get the votes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, the turmoil in the Middle East adds new urgency to disputes here in Washington, D.C. President Biden will address the nation later today.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But the House of Representatives remains paralyzed until Republicans can elect a new speaker. This comes after a small block of hard-right Republicans led an effort, which Democrats joined, to remove Kevin McCarthy from office. At first, McCarthy said he would not run again for speaker. But at a news conference Monday, which was called ostensibly to call for more U.S. support for Israel, the California Republican indicated he would serve again if he could get the votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: That's a decision by the conference. I'll allow the conference to make whatever decision. Whether I'm speaker or not, I'm a member of this body.

INSKEEP: OK, let's turn to NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's McCarthy thinking?

DAVIS: The attack on Israel has scrambled a lot of the calculations here on Capitol Hill. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said he thought it was dangerous to remove the speaker the way Republicans did. And he also made the point on CNN recently that without a speaker, Congress can't move legislation. They can't pass aid to Israel. They can't pass a resolution he's authored condemning Hamas for the attack. And they can't do anything until there's a speaker in place.

All of this seems to have affected McCarthy. He made extensive remarks on Israel. He called a press conference even though he is not the speaker of the House. But as of now, it still seems pretty clear he doesn't have the votes. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who's one of his top detractors, reiterated this on Monday on social media, saying that it was, quote, "time to move forward in the conference."

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember the math. Any House Republican who loses a few House Republican votes can't win. There are a couple of other Republicans who seem to be in the running, Steve Scalise, who has been No. 2 in the House up to now, and Jim Jordan, very prominent committee chairman.

DAVIS: Republicans are trying to hash this all out this week. They held a meeting last night essentially just to vent some anger from everything that played out last week. They're going to have a candidate forum tonight where Scalise and Jordan will address their colleagues behind closed doors. If all goes to plan, they're going to hold a closed-door, secret ballot election amongst just Republicans on Wednesday morning.

And if they think a Republican can get the votes before the full House, they could move to the full House floor very quickly, even as early as Wednesday. There is a lot of hesitation among Republicans, especially Republicans like McCaul, to have this all play out on the floor like it did in January. They don't want to go 15 rounds. They don't want to go several days, especially following the attack on Israel, because there's a real fear of projecting this sort of image of democracy in the U.S. in disarray in a very public fashion.

INSKEEP: Just briefly - some people will wonder, like, could the Democrats get involved? Could Democrats give a few votes to someone? Does there still seem to be no likelihood of that at all?

DAVIS: There still seems to be no likelihood of that at all.

INSKEEP: OK. How else has the war in the Middle East affected Congress?

DAVIS: Well, in the Senate, I think it's created new urgency around a lot of nominations that are not filled. There's been a blockade of hundreds of military appointees by Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville. There's also new focus on getting ambassadors confirmed. Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is waiting to be confirmed as ambassador to Israel. Also, Steve, Ukraine aid changes the tenor of that debate around the U.S. role in aiding democracies. And there's already conversation over whether Congress should couple Ukraine aid with possible aid to Israel.

INSKEEP: Just a reminder that when it comes to money, the United States can do nothing if the House of Representatives cannot vote. Is that correct, Susan?

DAVIS: That is correct.

INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis, always a pleasure hearing from you. Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.