As Republicans fight, a House paralyzed by ‘bad blood’ faces a major to-do list

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WASHINGTON — Tackling big issues was always going to be difficult in a divided government. But without a speaker, it’s impossible.

Congress has three-and-a-half weeks to fund the government or cause another damaging shutdown. But without a speaker, the House is frozen, unable to conduct business as their to-do list piles up and other key deadlines approach.

And 21 days after House Republicans threw out their last speaker, they’re no closer to replacing him. On Tuesday, their third nominee to replace him, Rep. of Minnesota, announced within hours of winning the nomination that he was dropping out.

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“We’re wasting time. We’re burning daylight. This has set us back on the approps process, so we’re moving up against the Nov. 17” deadline to fund the government, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which bills get votes in the House. “I don’t think we’ll shut down, but I do think we’ve wasted a lot of time where we could put bills on the floor and made progress.”

The Senate, meanwhile, unlocked a path forward Tuesday to vote on three funding bills, but it can’t avoid a shutdown on its own.

The Biden administration has also sent Congress a request for a $105 billion package that includes aid to Israel amid an escalating war in the Middle East, new funding for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s war, international proposals aimed at containing China’s influence and additional funding to bolster U.S. border security.

“The Senate will act probably this week on the president’s proposal. We need to be in a position to deal with that,” Cole said in an interview on Tuesday. “And if we don’t like what we see — and I suspect from what I’m hearing, there’ll be things we don’t like — be in a position to reshape and send back a different package and do the normal congressional ping-pong until we get to an agreement. We can’t do that without a speaker. We have friends around the world that have serious challenges, and we have our own domestic economy. We need to step up.”

Beyond the government funding and aid for foreign allies, Congress must pass a new farm bill, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and pass a National Defense Authorization Act in order to prevent major disruptions in daily life for Americans.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., one of the Emmer opponents, said he wants a speaker candidate who will advance “conservatism,” and oppose “earmarks” and “supplementals.”

“This country’s in trouble financially, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, calling for a speaker “that’s going to be a standard bearer — not just talk, they’re going to do it — use the office for speaker to advance that.”

The chaos has produced mistrust and fresh grudges all over the House GOP, which some fear will further complicate the narrow majority’s task of governing once it elects a new speaker.

“We’re not getting the Israel stuff. Done. We’re not getting appropriations bills done. And we need to move forward,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who represents a swing district based in Omaha. “There’s bad blood.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said House Republicans, by failing to elect a speaker, are “putting themselves in a very weak position” to win concessions in the funding fight from a Senate and White House run by Democrats.

“What it means is that the appropriations process will probably have more input from Democrats — because Democrats do control the Senate and they control the presidency — than if the House actually had their leadership team put together and could negotiate in good faith,” Rounds said, noting that the House is “running out of time” to play a significant role in the process.

Many Republicans are furious that a band of eight rebels took out former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who helped many of them get elected and capture the majority. And allies of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., believe he was mistreated after winning the nomination and being forced to drop out.

Right-wing lawmakers feel aggrieved at being labeled bullies for trying to pressure members to vote for Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the subsequent nominee, who was forced out by centrist and institutionalist defections.

“We have two parties within a party right now,” Bacon said. “We have the Reagan conservatives. We have a populist wing. And they don’t agree on some issues. And we only have a four-seat majority. That’s what makes it so hard.”

Democrats, who are unified behind House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., for speaker, say the GOP mess has real-world consequences.

“These are dangerous times. And the dysfunction of the Republican conference was tolerable for a few days, but now we’re going into weeks. And the world is on fire. And we are fast approaching the deadline where the government might shut down if we don’t do something,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the ranking member of the Rules Committee. “And so enough of the bulls—. They’ve got to come together and figure out a pathway forward.”

McGovern and other Democrats say they’d favor a bipartisan path forward and would support a Republican for speaker if they commit to changing the way the House works by saying no to far-right demands and bringing bipartisan legislation to a vote.

“I am proud to be part of Team Normal. But they’re Team Out Of Their F—ing Minds. And I’ve never seen anything like this before,” McGovern said. “It’s embarrassing for this country, and they should all be ashamed of themselves.”

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