Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan bid to fill top job in leaderless US House

By David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The race to replace ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy took shape on Wednesday as Steve Scalise, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, and Jim Jordan, a leading antagonist of Democratic President Joe Biden, said they would seek the post.

The two lawmakers could be joined by several other candidates in what could be a lengthy and messy battle to fill the post in the House where Republicans hold a majority.

Tuesday’s historic removal of McCarthy, driven by a rebellious faction of fellow Republicans, marked the first time the chamber has removed its leader from a position that is second in line to the president after the vice president.

Republicans have set an Oct. 11 vote to choose a successor and are due to meet the day before to hear from candidates.

The leadership fight is eating into the time lawmakers have to extend government spending before it expires on Nov. 18 and update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, among other tasks.

Scalise, 57, who has been getting treatment for cancer, has long been considered McCarthy’s heir apparent and has been meeting privately with Republicans to build support for his bid. He is seen as more conservative than McCarthy.

He was critically wounded in 2017 when a man who had criticized Republicans on social media shot him and other party lawmakers as they were practicing for a baseball game.

“We all need to come together and pull in the same direction to get the country back on the right track,” he wrote in a letter to Republicans.


Jordan, 59, a former college wrestler who has led investigations of the Biden administration, first gained prominence as a leader of the party’s right wing before eventually forming an alliance with McCarthy. He is known for eschewing suit jackets and is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump.

As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he is involved in an impeachment investigation into Biden and has tangled with state prosecutors who have filed criminal cases against Trump.

“We can focus on the changes that improve the country and unite us in offering real solutions. But no matter what we do, we must do it together as a conference,” he wrote to Republicans.

Both face potential challenges.

Jordan is viewed by some moderates as being too far to the right, and by some hardliners as too close to McCarthy. Scalise is seen by McCarthy allies as having done nothing to help him during the leadership challenge and faces questions about his physical ability to do the job, according to one Republican lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Representative Kevin Hern, who leads a policy group for conservative lawmakers, also said he was considering a bid.

“I think we need to be pointing our guns outward, not at each other,” he told reporters.

Representative Patrick McHenry is temporarily serving as speaker following McCarthy’s removal.

Rank and file Republicans said they were weighing their options.

“Everybody’s just taking a breath and in listening mode, without any serious commitments,” said Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw.


McCarthy’s ouster is the latest factor causing Wall Street to worry about U.S. political governance, following a near-miss with a partial federal government shutdown this weekend and a previous showdown earlier this year that took the U.S. government to the brink of default.

Those concerns, alongside worries about interest rates, have played a role in a sustained sell-off in government bonds.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that two-thirds of Americans believe Washington politicians cannot put aside their partisan differences to do their jobs.

The speaker’s job has proven difficult for Republicans in recent years. The last Republican speaker, Paul Ryan, retired from Congress after struggling to work with Trump, a fellow Republican. His predecessor John Boehner left after clashes with the party’s right wing.

Some Republicans said they needed to change the chamber’s rules to make it more difficult to remove a speaker. McCarthy agreed to lower that threshold to allow any one member to challenge his leadership bid as a condition of winning support for the job in January, setting the stage for Representative Matt Gaetz to do just that.

“Whoever is going to get my vote for speaker is going to have to explain to me how what happened yesterday never happens again,” said Republican Representative Kelly Armstrong.

McCarthy, who led a narrow 221-212 majority, relied on Democratic votes to pass a stopgap spending bill on Saturday to avert a government shutdown, which angered Gaetz and other hard-right Republicans.

The entire House – Republicans and Democrats – vote for speaker, who would hold the position until early January 2025, unless they were deposed as well. Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries is expected to run against any Republican candidate nominated by the party conference, as he did in January.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Howard Goller)