By Makini Brice and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican Steve Scalise’s quest to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives collapsed without a vote, as hard-right members of his party revolted, after cutting short the tenure of the last three holders of the position.
The New Orleans-born lawmaker had overcome adversity before – including a 2017 shooting when he was badly wounded by a gunman angry about then-President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.
Scalise, 58, on Wednesday narrowly won House Republicans’ nomination to the role, which is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, in a closed-door party vote.
But opponents within the narrow and fractious 221-212 majority indicated they would never support the lawmaker who had served as No. 2 to Kevin McCarthy, who on Oct. 3 became the first House speaker in history ousted by his own party.
“We’re a ship that doesn’t have a rudder right now, and I’m thoroughly disappointed in the process,” Representative Mark Alford said after Scalise told reporters he was dropping out of the race for speaker.
McCarthy was the third consecutive Republican speaker to leave the top post due to pressure from his hard-right flank.
Scalise, who is being treated for a form of blood cancer, had garnered support from most members of the Republican caucus, but faced opposition from hardliners, including supporters of rival Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan.
“If you look at over the last few weeks, if you look at where our conference is, there is still work to be done,” Scalise told reporters. “There are still some people that have their own agendas.”
Scalise was first elected to Congress in 2008 to represent a district on Louisiana’s coast, and he worked on bipartisan legislation to dedicate fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to coastal restoration in the state.
In 2014, Scalise was elected to become the Republican whip. He played a key role in the passage of a tax overhaul plan and a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico under Trump’s administration. He was elected majority leader in 2022.
NEAR-BRUSH WITH DEATH
Scalise was nearly killed in 2017 when a gunman angry about Trump attacked a group of Republican lawmakers practicing for the annual congressional charity baseball game. He returned to a standing ovation on the House floor.
The experience did not diminish Scalise’s support for gun rights, and he said in an October 2017 interview with Fox News Channel that the shooting “fortified” his feelings about them.
Scalise drew criticism for speaking in 2002 to a group of white supremacists founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise said in 2014 he was not familiar with the ideology of the group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, and that he regretted the mistake.
Scalise announced in August he was in treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He has been at the Capitol in the weeks since.
Whomever House Republicans eventually back as speaker will take on the job at a time when the chamber has a lot on the agenda. Congress must pass spending bills before Nov. 17 to keep the government open.
House Republicans also have mounted an impeachment inquiry into President Biden over allegations that he and his family have personally profited from policy decisions made when he was vice president, though they have not produced evidence directly tying Biden to any wrongdoing.
The House is controlled by Republicans, while the Senate and the White House are in Democratic hands.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Gerry Doyle)