Republican Divisions Threaten Scalise’s Ascent to House Speaker

Republican Steve Scalise faces a fight to become House speaker that could drag on for days or even weeks, delaying the US response to fiscal deadlines and a new war in the Middle East.

(Bloomberg) — Republican Steve Scalise faces a fight to become House speaker that could drag on for days or even weeks, delaying the US response to fiscal deadlines and a new war in the Middle East.

Scalise on Wednesday claimed the GOP nomination for speaker by the narrowest of majorities, beating out the candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump. 

He immediately began a charm offensive to get the backing of the dozens of other House Republicans, including several Trump acolytes, who didn’t support his candidacy. But many of his party colleagues quickly indicated they won’t soon — or likely ever — get behind the 58-year-old Louisianan.

With Scalise still working to muster votes a day after his nomination and far short of the 217 he needs to become speaker, House Republicans on Thursday scheduled a closed-door meeting for 12:15 pm Washington time, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The House can conduct no business, including approving new aid to Israel, until a new speaker is in place. 

Scalise can’t afford to lose more than four GOP votes to win against unified Democrats for their party leader, Hakeem Jeffries of New York. 

A drawn-out process risks producing a speaker even weaker than the ousted Kevin McCarthy, who’d preside atop a dysfunctional majority riven by deep splits over the strategy for negotiating with Democrats and policy issues like financing for Ukraine and avoiding a government shutdown next month.

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“The American people are getting an up-close-and-personal look at the sausage being made,” said Representative Chip Roy, a Texas conservative who isn’t sold on Scalise. 

Such Republican discord is not new. The very reason the speakership is open is because a small band of conservative rebels last week prompted McCarthy’s removal.

Those same conservatives in January forced McCarthy into an embarrassing 15 rounds of floor balloting, and desperate deal-making, before he finally was elected speaker.

Some Republicans had hoped this speaker election could serve as a unifying event for the fractious party. But that hasn’t been the case. 

Scalise, in winning the nomination, won the support of just 113 of 225 House Republican colleagues voting during secret balloting. His only declared foe, Jim Jordan of Ohio, received 99 of 112 votes cast against Scalise.

“That’s really not much of a majority — one vote,” said Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, who has run for speaker in the past.

Not even Jordan’s quick endorsement of Scalise dissuaded other Republicans from publicly declaring their opposition, or indecision in backing him. Some were publicly dangling demands, and others brought up earlier Scalise miscues.

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado told MSNBC that for Scalise to get his vote he’d have to declare that the 2020 election was not stolen from Trump, and commit to putting Ukraine funding on the House floor for a vote.

Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina said she wouldn’t support Scalise because he admitted to speaking to a gathering of White supremacist leaders while a state lawmaker a dozen years earlier. Scalise has said he did not know the group was founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

“I think the number is large and growing of people who will not support Scalise on the floor,” Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky said. 

Others Scalise opponents include Bob Good of Virginia, Michael Cloud of Texas, Carlos Gimenez of Florida, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Earlier: George Santos Faces Threat of Ouster by NY GOP Congressmen

Scalise’s math became even more complicated late Wednesday night when Representative George Santos, who faces indictment and an expulsion resolution by fellow New York Republicans, declared himself “an ANYONE but Scalise and come hell or high water I won’t change my mind.”

In a post on X, the former Twitter, Santos complained that Scalise hadn’t contacted him during his months in Congress.  

Frustrated, some Scalise backers said he should not even try to cut deals to secure 217 votes he’ll need to be elected speaker on the floor. Scalise has indicated he wants to avoid specific commitments to individual lawmakers, a practice that helped doom McCarthy.

Earlier: McCarthy Ends Third-Shortest Tenure as Speaker After Ouster  

“We cannot tie this next speaker up the way we tied the last speaker up,” said Representative Jodey Arrington of Texas.

But hardliners are itching for a fight with the White House and Senate Democrats before the Nov. 17 government shutdown deadline.

Scalise said he wants deep spending cuts but has given no additional detail, earning him a “no” vote from Massie who wants a specific plan.

South Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson said the situation is devolving into one similar to the January speaker standoff which went 15 rounds of voting before McCarthy was selected.

“It’s been incredibly hard for this Republican House to govern,” he said.

Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin saw the failure to elect a speaker as part of a wider problem that could undermine the standing of the US in the eyes of the world. “It does seem like we’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of unrestrained ambition,” he told reporters late Wednesday night at the Capitol.

“People feel no loyalty to this institution.” 

–With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.

(Updates with Republican meeting beginning in fourth paragraph)

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