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The latest on the race for speaker of the House

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In a closed-door vote today, Republicans in the House nominated Jim Jordan to be speaker. Jordan is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and has been endorsed by former President Trump. Now, of course, even with this nomination in place, the path to actually electing Jordan as the speaker remains murky. It's just the latest twist in a dramatic week and a half for House Republicans, who saw Speaker Kevin McCarthy ousted and then could not unify behind their first nominee to replace him, Steve Scalise.

NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has been following all of this from the Capitol and joins us now. Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So what exactly is the latest at this point?

WALSH: So, as you said, Jordan won the internal House Republican conference vote. He beat out Austin Scott, who's a Georgia Republican who was trying to make a race against Jordan to get the nomination. Jordan only bested out Austin Scott, who just entered the race this afternoon kind of as a surprise, by about 40 votes.

CHANG: Wow.

WALSH: And even Jordan's backers said that tally was pretty low. As you noted, whoever needs to be elected by the - elected speaker by the full House needs 217 votes.

CHANG: Right.

WALSH: So House Republicans took a second ballot. And the second ballot question was, will you vote for Jordan on the floor? He won again, but he was still more than 60 votes short of being able to be elected by the full House of Representatives. So House Republicans were essentially told to go home for the weekend. They're going to regroup on Monday and have another sort of internal House Republican meeting. There could be a vote on the floor as soon as Monday, but it seems sort of unclear. I mean, what House Republicans really want to avoid is another embarrassing scene like we saw in January, where it took four days and 15 ballots to elect Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

Some Jordan supporters think that moving to the floor would put a lot of pressure on some of the Republican holdouts because President Trump, as you said, endorsed - former President Trump endorsed Jim Jordan. And they think if they are forced to vote in public on the floor, they will feel pressure to get behind Jordan. But you can see just from the folks coming out of the meeting, there is still a lot of tension, division and a lot of members just not ready to get behind Jordan.

CHANG: Right. OK. So the saga continues. Now you talk about a floor vote. This is a job that needs to be confirmed by a majority vote on the House floor. Can you just explain the process a little bit more for us?

WALSH: Right. So whoever is elected by the full House needs a majority of present voting. That number right now is 217. There are 221 House Republicans. If they all show up to vote, the nominee can only lose a handful. There's way more than a handful that have still voted against Jordan. He would need to flip a lot of votes. Back in January, Kevin McCarthy went to the floor with 188 votes, and so it took him a while to get to the number he needed to be elected.

And McCarthy said today he thinks Jordan can get there, and he thinks that they can do some work to get there. He sort of downplayed Jordan's much lower number and thought he could win on the floor. But, you know, we've seen this happen two votes in a row, right?

CHANG: Yes. Yeah.

WALSH: Scalise couldn't get the number. And they put the guy who lost against him up, and he still can't get the number. I think there's still a lot of confusion about how they're going to be able to get there.

CHANG: OK. And tell us a little more about Jim Jordan. Who is he?

WALSH: He's a conservative firebrand. He's really had a political evolution. He's been in the House for about 15 years. He started out as the chair of this conservative group known as the Republican Study Committee. And basically, it was formed to sort of move the leadership of the House of Representatives to the right. He had a lot of very public battles with his Ohio colleague, who was speaker at the time, John Boehner. And Boehner dubbed Jordan as a legislative terrorist. So he's really come to show where the Republican Party has moved, much more conservative. He's obviously endorsed by Trump. And he was one of many Republicans to vote against the 2020 certification.

CHANG: That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you so much, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Ailsa. 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.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.