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McCarthy opens door to Speakership comeback amid Israel turmoil

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) kept the door open to a comeback bid for the Speakership on Monday, outlining steps he believes the U.S. should take to respond to the crisis in Israel during a lengthy press conference — a presentation that was reminiscent of when he held the gavel just a week before.

The California Republican did not directly answer if he envisions a scenario in which he could be a candidate for Speaker; if he would accept a colleague nominating him for Speaker; or if he thinks he is the right person to lead the House in the current moment, considering his pro-Israel background.

“That’s a decision by the conference,” McCarthy said, relaying iterations of that multiple times.

He similarly deflected when asked if he would endorse either of the candidates running to replace him: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

But McCarthy, who hours after being ousted as Speaker said he would not run for the post again, was not shy about reminding reporters that the vast majority of the House GOP conference voted to keep him in the top spot last week.

“The only thing I would ask my conference, you have 96 percent of the conference in one place and you’re allowing 4 percent, with the Democrats playing politics, that now have putting the doubt inside this body,” McCarthy said. “That is wrong.” 

McCarthy’s apparent openness to returning to the Speakership — which he also indicated earlier in the morning to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt — is just the latest curveball in the race to pick a new Speaker after his unprecedented ouster. 

And for the former Speaker — who gained control of the gavel in January after a four-day, 15-ballot floor election saga — it would be his biggest comeback yet.

His openness, though, marks a reversal. Hours after being ousted from the Speakership, McCarthy took himself out of the running.

“I will not run for Speaker again. I’ll have the conference pick somebody else,” McCarthy said in a press conference last week.

House Republicans are scheduled to have a closed-door meeting Monday night, a candidate forum Tuesday and an internal vote on a nominee Wednesday. The conference would then take that nomination to the floor to put up against House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

But lawmakers returned to Washington with increased urgency to elect a new Speaker on Monday after war broke out in Israel over the weekend. Hamas, an Iranian-backed terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, which has already led to more than 1,000 deaths and more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas.

Several House GOP lawmakers — including Reps. John Duarte (R-Calif.), Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) — have suggested that McCarthy return as Speaker, and the outbreak of war in Israel has further fueled those calls.

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who attended McCarthy’s press conference, echoed that.

“I believe he’s the right person to lead. I said yesterday on CNN that he should be reinstated as Speaker. I believe that,” Lawler said.

Several lawmakers have said that neither Scalise nor Jordan have the support necessary to become Speaker, prompting fears of a drawn-out process and a deadlock — and perhaps giving an opening for McCarthy. Both men have racked up endorsements, but neither have emerged as a front-runner.

“Does anybody have the votes? No,” Lawler said of the Speakership race.

It is unclear, though, how McCarthy could secure enough support from House Republicans to take hold of the gavel again given the opposition from the eight GOP lawmakers who joined with Democrats to oust him last week. Any Speaker will have to earn the support of a majority of GOP lawmakers on the House floor — currently a threshold of 217 members, assuming all members of the House are present and voting.

Without a Speaker, the House is unable to conduct any legislative business in support of Israel, one of the U.S.’s closest allies — a reality that is putting pressure on lawmakers to elect a top lawmaker as quickly as possible.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is currently serving as Speaker pro tempore, but the general consensus is that his authority in the role is limited. House Democrats argue that McHenry can do little else but oversee the election of a new Speaker.

“Unfortunately, the House can do nothing without a Speaker,” McCarthy told reporters when asked about what action the House can take with the Speakership vacant.

“I could be upset with eight, but I could be upset with every single Democrat as well,” he continued. “They both made the same decision, a political decision, instead of putting America first.”

But McCarthy argued that McHenry may be able to oversee passage of a House resolution even before there is a newly elected Speaker.

“I don’t understand why the [Speaker pro tempore] couldn’t lead as well. We should have a resolution on the floor condemning what’s taking place so the rest of the world understands,” McCarthy said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Sunday said he is working with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the panel’s ranking member, on a resolution condemning Hamas for its actions over the weekend.

McCarthy pointed to his pro-Israel credentials during Monday’s press conference: He addressed Israel’s Knesset in May, becoming just the second Speaker ever to deliver a speech before the legislative body, and he welcomed Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the Capitol in July.

On Monday, he presented a framework for the U.S. to support Israel amid the current conflict, which includes rescuing American hostages, refreezing the $6 billion in Iranian funds the White House unfroze earlier this year and demanding the leader of Hamas’s extradition.

McCaul emphasized the importance of getting a Speaker elected so the House can conduct business in support of Israel.

“We have to get a Speaker elected this week so we can get things on the floor like replenishing the Iron Dome, get a resolution that ranking member Meeks and I have been working on, [a] bipartisan resolution condemning Hamas for what they have done to Israel,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview.

“We want to get that on the floor by unanimous consent, whether or not we have a Speaker in place, because I think we cannot wait. We have to get that message out as soon as possible,” he added.

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