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The House speaker's race is still in the air. Can House Republicans come together?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. House of Representatives still does not have a speaker to lead the chamber. Yesterday, the current House majority leader, Steve Scalise, secured the nomination of his fellow Republicans, but only by a narrow margin and behind closed doors. In an open election of the entire House, Scalise does not yet appear to have enough votes to become the speaker. So while the Republican majority struggles to agree upon a leader, Congress can't really make laws. Scalise spoke to reporters today.

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STEVE SCALISE: And we're going to continue to go through this process as we grow our support, work towards getting this resolved and getting the House back open.

CHANG: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now from the Capitol. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Elise (ph).

CHANG: So is there any chance that Republicans could already be forced to look for another candidate beyond Scalise to become the House speaker at this point?

GRISALES: Right. It is possible. They may have to go back to the drawing board. It's unclear if Scalise can overcome his deficit and turn dozens of votes in his favor in the short amount of time. Traditionally, these speaker elections are preceded by weeks, months of campaigning by candidates. Scalise doesn't have that. He's down to days. And we heard from former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today who was ousted from that seat...

CHANG: Right.

GRISALES: ...And he's unsure too. He says time is running out.

CHANG: So I saw that House Republicans - I mean, they did meet behind closed doors again for several hours this afternoon. Any new consensus come out of that meeting or is that just wishful thinking?

GRISALES: It's a little wishful. It's a little wishful. They did - members did seem confused on what could come next. They were in that room meeting for several hours, about three hours, and they were frustrated. They're not sure of the next steps. And they know the clock is ticking, but there's not a lot of answers. I talked to one of those members, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Tom Cole. He said many stood up in the room and vouched for Scalise, including those who had voted for his opponent yesterday - this is House judiciary chairman, Jim Jordan. And even Jordan himself stood up in Scalise's support. So he thinks there's momentum there. But he doesn't know how long it could take for Scalise to close the deal. Another member, Florida Congressman Byron Donalds, is less sure if he can make it in time. He says it could take too long for this to get sorted out, and he's not sure it can happen.

CHANG: But, Claudia, I mean, Congress really cannot do anything without a speaker of the House, right? Like, so how much of that is putting any urgency on this process?

GRISALES: It is putting a lot of pressure on members. And members such as Donalds, for example, said they should stay here until they do sort this out. He argued maybe this will take through the weekend, but the weekend should be the deadline. They are facing the threat of a government shutdown in a matter of weeks - November 17 - and many members want to move on a bipartisan resolution showing support for Israel in their fight against Hamas. House Foreign Affairs chairman Michael McCaul talked about this pressure, about going without a speaker.

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MICHAEL MCCAUL: We're living in a dangerous world. The world's on fire. Our adversaries are watching what we do. And quite frankly, they like it.

CHANG: Well, what about the acting speaker, Patrick McHenry? Like, could he just step in, do the job for a while, while the rest of the party figures it out?

GRISALES: Right. Some members are arguing for this more. But I'm also hearing others say that this is not possible, and some are arguing it could even be illegal. It's uncharted territory.

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: 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.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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