On the eve of an internal party battle that has revealed their splits and severe uncertainty in the House of Representatives, Republicans strained on Tuesday to coalesce around a candidate for speaker but were little closer to accord.
Several Republicans claimed they were still at an impasse after a closed-door candidates forum that lasted for several hours on Tuesday night. This set the stage for a contentious and protracted election inside the Republican Party on Wednesday morning, raising the possibility that the House might be without a leader for many days while the GOP ironed out its differences.
Further complicating matters, Mr. McCarthy’s backers were demanding a vote to reinstall him, a notion the former speaker had previously suggested he was amenable to but subsequently denied.
A prolonged race and contentious debate on the House floor might be the result of the unrest, which reflected internal divisions within the G.O.P. Since Mr. McCarthy, a Republican from California, was removed from office, the Senate has been inactive. After the assault by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has resulted in over a thousand Israeli casualties, members of Congress were more concerned that the leaderless house could be unable to act to defend Israel.
Texas Republican and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said the attack on Israel made it all the more important for the House to elect a new speaker immediately.
Mr. Scalise and Mr. Jordan spent Tuesday evening answering questions from dozens of members in a closed-door candidates’ forum. Mr. McCarthy stated that he had not formally entered the race and hence would not be participating.
However, the former speaker implored his followers not to nominate him after opening the conference with a prayer he ascribed to Mother Teresa about forgiving one’s adversaries.
Outside, he screamed against the eight Republicans who had betrayed the party to help oust him, together with the Democrats who had joined forces to defeat him by a majority.
But far-right Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has sided with Mr. McCarthy, sounded positive about the prospect of the expelled speaker’s return to the House.
Before the vote, Republicans were also contemplating potential changes to their internal party rules, such as making it harder to force out a sitting speaker and requiring a near-unanimous vote among party members before nominating a candidate for speaker. Both moves were made in an effort to avoid a replay of the humiliating narrative of Mr. McCarthy’s tenure, in which he endured 15 floor votes to obtain the speakership in January and then was ousted by his own party 10 months later.