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‘Passions are very, very high’: House speaker battle shatters trust between Republican factions

Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, spoke at the Capitol on Thursday.Drew Angerer/Getty

WASHINGTON — The historic chaos sparked by the ousting of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has created such intense bad blood and animosity among newly formed factions of House Republicans that whoever eventually wins the job will need to restore trust and heal wounds before moving on to actual governing.

McCarthy’s supporters are furious at the eight Republicans who voted with House Democrats on Oct. 3 to force out a sitting speaker for the first time ever.

Supporters of House majority leader Steve Scalise, who won an internal party vote to replace the California Republican, are angry at Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and his allies for derailing that plan.

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Jordan’s supporters are incensed at the 20-plus House Republicans who prevented him from winning the job. And those Jordan opponents are irate at him and his allies for a pressure campaign to back him that has spurred harassment and even death threats.

“Who would have thought that the eight hard-liners throwing a grenade into the House would have ever caused problems?” Representative Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican and McCarthy ally, said sarcastically Thursday. “I don’t think any of us should be shocked that the aftereffects are going to continue. . . . It was monumentally irresponsible.”

Republicans remain in disarray. Jordan tried to buy more time on Thursday to win support by pushing for House Republicans to fully empower temporary speaker Patrick McHenry of North Carolina until Jan. 3. But he abandoned that idea after many of them balked. Then, in hopes of holding another vote, Jordan tried to win over some of his opponents in a late afternoon meeting. But several emerged saying they had not changed their minds.

After Jordan lost more support in a Friday vote, House Republicans decided by secret ballot to ditch him as their nominee and look for another one.

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Representative Jim Jordan has twice been rejected in House floor votes to fill the role of speaker.HAIYUN JIANG/NYT

Representative Mike Flood of Nebraska, a Jordan supporter, has been in Congress for a little more than a year and acknowledged he doesn’t know the history behind the intraparty conflicts undergirding the speaker battle. But it’s obvious to him that the current leadership fight has exacerbated them.

“There’s clearly some personal conflicts that are driving division. These are things we need to get over,” he said during a break as House Republicans met Thursday morning to try to work out their differences. “I don’t want to sit around and talk about my feelings anymore. I’m ready to get back to the work of governing.”

But before that could happen, they all went back into the closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement and passions got heated.

“It was intense,” said Representative Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican.

At one point, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who filed the motion that led to McCarthy’s ouster, stood up to speak. McCarthy told reporters afterward that Gaetz was attempting to interrupt and told him to sit down.

“I think the entire conference screamed at him,” said McCarthy, who has derided the Republicans behind his ouster as “the crazy eights led by Matt Gaetz.” “The whole country I think would scream at Matt Gaetz right now.”

Gaetz brushed it off afterward as a misunderstanding, but not without taking a shot at McCarthy’s heritage.

“He loses his temper sometimes. Maybe it’s the Irish in him,” Gaetz told reporters.

Representative Matt Gaetz triggered the vote to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speakership that launched the infighting of the last two weeks.KENNY HOLSTON/NYT

That confrontation is indicative of the bad feelings that have consumed the House Republicans.

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“Passions are very, very high,” said Florida Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Jordan opponent who has been upset about attempts to intimidate him into changing his position. “We have to do everything we can to lower the passions.”

But the passions have risen into dangerous territory outside the Capitol. Many of the lawmakers who have voted against Jordan described receiving death threats and fearing for their families. Nebraska Representative Don Bacon, a moderate holdout against Jordan, said people have been calling his wife to say “terrible” things.

”I didn’t sleep well last night, and so I called her and go, ‘How are you doing?’ She said, ‘I slept really well, I had a loaded gun,’ ” Bacon said.

It’s not just the anti-Jordan holdouts facing abuse.

”I’ve gotten cussed out by members, and they walk by and say ugly things to you,” said Tennessee Representative Tim Burchett, a Republican who voted to oust McCarthy, adding he’s also gotten “a few death threats at home.”

House Republicans already are dealing with a slim majority that has made governing extremely difficult because of conflicts between longstanding party factions. McCarthy managed to overcome them to win the job after 15 rounds of voting in January. But the move to bounce him from the job and the inability to agree on a replacement has created new sub-factions that could make governing even more difficult.

“There’s a lot of different vectors here,” said Pennsylvania Representative Brian Fitzpatrick. “With McCarthy it was very simple. It was coming from one place with one group for generally one reason. Not the case with Mr. Scalise and not the case with Mr. Jordan.”

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The House speaker pro tempore, Representative Patrick McHenry (center), has been the focus of one Republican plan that would empower him with increased duties while a full speaker is chosen. But the viability of that option is unclear.Win McNamee/Getty

The vectors also cross the aisle, with Republicans near united in their fury at Democrats for joining with the eight rebels to vote out McCarthy. That makes the hurdles even higher for future deals to fund the government and pass other crucial legislation. It’s also a problem for the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which Fitzpatrick cochairs.

“Is there broken trust? You better believe it,” Fitzpatrick, a moderate who voted for Jordan initially, said of the Democrats in the group. “And just like in any relationship, when there’s broken trust, that has to be addressed.”

Johnson, another Republican in the Problem Solvers Caucus, said the Democrats didn’t help the cause of bipartisanship.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever fully get over the fact that the Democrats were willing to throw our government into chaos,” he said. “They provided the ammunition that the eight hard-liners needed to blow up this House. The hangover for that will be almost indescribably long.”

But there’s no precedent for one party voting to support the speaker of another party. And Democrats said the Republican dysfunction that has kept the job vacant for more than two weeks has hit a new level.

“I’ve never seen a party as fractured as this one,” said Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who has served in the House since 1981.

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As the House remained idle , unable to do business, Republicans expressed their frustration.

“It’s time for everybody to put on their big boy pants or their big girl pants to grow up,” said Representative Andy Ogles, a Tennessee Republican. “We’ve got a speaker to elect. Let’s do that, then move on around the country.”

Some Republicans said they hoped that the bad blood would ease when everybody was able to get back to work. But when that would happen remained in doubt.

“People are absolutely frustrated. But there’s also the element of, you have the people who started the fire now demanding that other people put out the fire,” said Florida Representative Kat Cammack. Asked how the House Republicans could heal their divisions, she said, “Maybe we just need to get into a room more often and hash it out and yell at each other—or bring back caning.”

Gaetz, who launched the House into this unprecedented chaos, said he doesn’t know if it has increased distrust and animosity among Republicans.

“To be honest with you,” he said Thursday as he headed into the House Republican meeting, “I had a good deal of distrust and animosity going in, so mine’s about the same.”


Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at jim.puzzanghera@globe.com. Follow him @JimPuzzanghera. Tal Kopan can be reached at tal.kopan@globe.com. Follow her @talkopan.