Republicans picked Representative Steve Scalise as their nominee to become House speaker, yet opposition from a group of hardliners threatens to delay a final vote and leave the chamber without a leader.
(Bloomberg) — Republicans picked Representative Steve Scalise as their nominee to become House speaker, yet opposition from a group of hardliners threatens to delay a final vote and leave the chamber without a leader.
The 58-year-old lawmaker received early assistance from his rival for speaker, conservative firebrand Jim Jordan, who quickly endorsed Scalise after narrowly losing to him. Jordan offered to formally nominate Scalise on the House floor.
“Obviously we still have work to do,” Scalise said. “We are going to have to go upstairs on the House floor and resolve this.”
Scalise’s nomination was a rebuff to the party’s most prominent leader, Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan. Jordan has been one of Trump’s most dedicated congressional defenders and a vociferous critic of President Joe Biden.
Even with Jordan’s backing, Scalise remained short of the 217 votes he needs to be elected speaker in the initial hours after winning the nomination. A planned 3 p.m. House vote was delayed and lawmakers instructed to be on call for a vote.
“We ain’t voting, not today. I don’t think that would be a good idea,” said Representative Chip Roy of Texas, a Jordan supporter.
Republicans are in a holding pattern, fearful of the spectacle of repeated failed speaker votes on the floor as happened in January when it took 15 rounds to elect Kevin McCarthy.
“We aren’t going to want to put this on the floor until we get 217,” said Texas Representative Michael McCaul.
Scalise garnered support from 113 of the 221 House Republicans in the nomination vote. With Democrats planning to unanimously cast their votes for their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, Scalise can only afford to lose support of four Republicans on the House floor, unless some lawmakers don’t vote or vote “present.”
Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky said Wednesday afternoon that he and “at least 20” of his fellow Republicans weren’t yet ready to vote for Scalise.
“I think the number is large and growing of people who will not support Scalise on the floor,” Massie said.
Republican representatives Bob Good of Virginia, Michael Cloud of Texas, Carlos Gimenez of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Lauren Boebert said in interviews or social media posts they would vote for someone other Scalise.
McCarthy’s ouster last week has inflamed tensions in a party divided into often-combative factions. Scalise faces conflicting pressures from hardliners who initially backed Jordan and more moderate lawmakers who represent areas Biden won in the last election.
Republican Representative Ken Buck of Colorado said on MSNBC that in order to get his vote Scalise would have to publicly declare the 2020 election wasn’t stolen from Trump and commit to allowing a House vote on Ukraine funding, both declarations that risk the ire of populist hardliners.
Moderate Republicans and allies from southern states formed the core of Scalise’s support. Jordan was the favorite among members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which he helped found. Both men are considered to be more conservative than McCarthy on fiscal matters, but Scalise is seen as less combative than Jordan.
If the House elects Scalise, it would allow the chamber to restart legislative work which stalled with McCarthy’s removal. Republicans and Democrats are looking to quickly pass aid for Israel in the aftermath of attacks from Hamas, and to resume work on funding bills needed to keep the government open after Nov. 17.
The chances of a federal shutdown in November remain high. McCarthy was ousted, in part, because he allowed a vote on a bipartisan temporary spending measure to prevent an Oct. 1 shutdown.
Scalise told Republicans behind closed doors on Tuesday that another short-term funding measure will be necessary to keep the government open next month. Putting such a bill on the floor could risk another revolt by hardliners.
Scalise was first elected to Congress in 2008 and has served in various House leadership roles since 2014. Scalise’s popularity among Republicans has only grown as he battled a series of health challenges. He was shot and wounded by an assailant at a congressional baseball practice in 2017 and in August announced he is receiving treatment for cancer.
–With assistance from Steven T. Dennis, Zach C. Cohen and Andre Tartar.
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