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House GOP leadership fight stretches on

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The fight over the speaker of the House has dragged on now for more than two weeks. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan was nominated by his party for the job, but he lost a floor vote on the House floor twice. Now, he says he wants to try for a third time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: I'm still running for speaker. And I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race.

DETROW: Republicans need near unanimous agreement in order to elect a speaker. So far, this has been an impossible task. NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo has been following this and joins me now. Hey, Ximena.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Hey there.

DETROW: A lot changing hour by hour - what's the latest?

BUSTILLO: Well, Scott, GOP member Jim Jordan, as you just said, wants to try for a third round of votes. And earlier this week he did two rounds with 20 members voting against him on the first one, and 22 on the second one. For a while this morning, we weren't sure if he was going to go for that third round. There was even talk from Republican members coming out of a conference meeting that they could draft a deal to give current Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry, who's a Republican from North Carolina, more powers. The members told us up here today that this could have been a temporary solution. But by lunchtime, that plan was scrapped. Jim Jordan stepped out and announced that he's running for speaker, as you just heard.

DETROW: And as a reminder, right now, McHenry is acting speaker, but he doesn't really have any power. What happened to those talks of giving him more?

BUSTILLO: Well, Jordan called this idea a pitch to lower the temperature and to get back to work, as they decided that it wasn't the direction they wanted to go. Conservatives were angry that this plan would have needed Democrats. And they said that Republicans won the House, and they need a Republican solution to this problem.

DETROW: You pointed this out that Jordan lost 20 votes the first time, 22 the second time. That means more people voted against him. He ended up with under 200 votes. What is the argument from his backers and from him for how he could win on this third attempt?

BUSTILLO: Well, that is really unclear right now. Jordan said that he wanted to meet with the original 20 people who voted against him. Some of those have reported, though, receiving threats, even death threats to them and their family members, and were really dug in against Jordan. He still needs 217 votes. And that means, by the numbers, he has to win all but about three Republicans.

DETROW: Bigger picture, what does the stalemate mean? I mean, we always talk broadly about Congress being frozen. Is that really true here?

BUSTILLO: Well, the biggest hurdle is that the House is limited in what it can do without a speaker. This is one of the main reasons members spent all that time today discussing the McHenry plan. This would have been a way for the House to continue some business as usual, like passing bills and resolutions, potentially without an actual speaker. There is a deadline for the government to shut down on November 17. We can't forget about that. And there's growing pressure for aid to Israel and Ukraine amid these recent global conflicts we've been talking about. And Congress can't pass bills that would authorize money if the House can't act.

DETROW: So how are House Republicans feeling right now? Do they feel like they can solve this problem at this point?

BUSTILLO: The mood right now this evening is currently very grim. Everyone seems exhausted and exasperated. This hour - this meeting this morning took more than four hours, and they had to order lunch. Members couldn't have their phones. They - things seem to be also changing quickly, but it isn't producing any action or really any solutions. They can't seem to agree on what the best options are at this point and can't seem to get closer to agreeing. A lot of members are very bitter about how this process has gone.

DETROW: We will track it as it keeps going. That's NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo. Thank you so much.

BUSTILLO: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.