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Jim Jordan tapped as Republican House speaker nominee

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The United States House of Representatives remains paralyzed. It still has no speaker, which means it can't vote on any legislation, including any additional military aid to Israel. Majority Leader Steve Scalise was briefly the party speaker designate this week, until he realized he didn't have enough support to win a floor vote and withdrew. Now the party has tapped Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, but he doesn't seem to have enough votes either. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is covering all of this and joins me now. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: I miss any key details there?

DAVIS: You know, I think that captures it. But a couple of points - you know, Jordan won the nomination in a secret ballot. And that was after Republican Congressman Austin Scott of Georgia decided he'd challenge him, and Scott, with, like, an hour's notice, still got nearly a third of the Republican conference to support him. And his speaker message was basically, I don't actually want to be speaker. I just don't think Jim Jordan should go unchallenged.

So Jordan then made the choice to go for a second ballot, and that was basically a referendum asking his colleagues if they would vote for him on the floor. And 55 Republicans still voted no on a secret ballot. So Jordan wanted to be able to go to the floor fast, as fast as Friday to lock it up, but those numbers were just so far away from the 217 he'll likely need on the floor. So he basically told members to go home, and they're going to regroup on Monday.

DETROW: So Jordan is far short of the votes just like now-former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was short on the votes and just like Steve Scalise was short on the votes. What is the path forward?

DAVIS: Well, Jordan has a calculation to make about how far away he thinks he is and if he can close it on the floor. Jordan's supporters say they think it'll be a lot harder to vote against him in public. He's popular with the base. He's endorsed by Donald Trump. Can he sort of rely on peer pressure to get the votes? But it's sort of hard to bully your way into the speaker's office. It's a consensus-building job. And frankly, Jordan's reputation in Congress has been much more about derailing and opposing deals than bringing people together to get something done.

DETROW: So this paralysis, this lack of a speaker - at this point, is this a Congress problem or a Republican problem?

DAVIS: Largely a math problem. Right now, Republicans only have 221 votes. Narrow majorities are unwieldy, but it's also a rules problem. Remember, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy changed the rules to make it easier for one Republican to remove the speaker. At the same time, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had exactly the same majority, and she was able to lock up the votes for speaker and keep it together. So it's not really a both-sides issue here. I always note that the base of the Democratic Party, at its core, still wants to govern, supports government, and the base of the Republican Party is just generally more anti-establishment and, frankly, anti-government.

DETROW: OK. So given all of this, has this opened up a world where if Republicans can't find a candidate and unite around a candidate, there is a possibility of, at some point, Democrats banding with a few moderate Republicans and electing a speaker with that coalition?

DAVIS: Not a single Republican I talked to this week said that was possible, but Democrats are offering their hand. They're saying they would consider it if Republicans would do things like bring more bipartisan bills to the floor and essentially give Democrats more power. But doing that would make it look like Republicans handed over the governing wheel to Democrats and probably open up a lot of Republicans to primary challenges. So for now, no. Republicans are still going to need to find a way to elect a Republican speaker with Republican votes.

DETROW: That's NPR's Susan Davis, covering the continuing quest to find a House speaker. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN COLTRANE'S "BAHIA") 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.

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.