By David Morgan and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Representative Steve Scalise, who Republicans picked to be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, dropped out of the race on Thursday as his party failed to resolve its divisions, sending the chamber into its 10th day without leadership.
Scalise, the Majority Leader, had secured his party’s nomination to replace ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy but was still short of the 217 votes needed to be elected on the House floor, as several of his fellow Republicans said they would not support him.
Republicans could afford no more than four defections – they control the House by a narrow 221-212 margin – if they wanted to end the House’s leaderless bout that has already lasted nine days.
“I just shared with my colleagues that I was withdrawing my name as a candidate for our speaker designee,” Scalise told reporters.
“If you look at over the last few weeks, if you look at where our conference is, there is still work to be done … There are still some people that have their own agendas,” he said.
The Republican infighting has left the chamber unable to act to support Israel’s war against Palestinian militants of Hamas and pass government spending bills before funding runs out on Nov. 17.
Republicans concluded a meeting Thursday night without coming to an agreement on who would be their nominee. They will meet again at 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT) on Friday.
Republicans had hoped to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing spectacle that occurred in January, when hardline conservatives forced McCarthy to endure 15 floor votes over four days before winning the gavel.
‘AT A STANDSTILL’
Several Republicans earlier said they would stick with Scalise’s rival Jim Jordan, who lost out in a secret-ballot vote on Wednesday. Jordan had encouraged his supporters to vote for Scalise, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Representative Greg Murphy said it was not clear that Jordan could win enough support to succeed on the floor.
“It’s going to be hard,” Murphy told reporters. “Personally, I think it may end up being a compromise candidate.”
Representative Patrick McHenry, who was named as temporary speaker after McCarthy’s ouster, is seen as a possible fallback candidate if no one else has enough votes.
Some Republicans have also suggested that to work around the paralysis caused by the lack of a permanent speaker, McHenry’s temporary powers could be enhanced.
Although McCarthy was the first speaker to be removed in a formal vote, the last two Republicans to hold the job wound up leaving under pressure from party hardliners.
Scalise, 58, gained near legendary status within Republican circles by surviving a severe gunshot wound after a gunman opened fire during practice for a charity baseball game in 2017.
He also commands widespread respect as a veteran legislator who has spent years in party leadership positions.
But Scalise also faces new health concerns as he undergoes treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, which some Jordan supporters cited as a reason not to vote for him.
Jordan was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and appeared to be the favorite of populist minded hardliners.
Trump in an interview with Fox News Radio on Thursday said he did not object to Scalise as speaker.
“Steve is a man that is in serious trouble from the standpoint of his cancer. I mean, he’s got to get better for himself,” he said in an interview with Fox News Radio.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Costas Pitas; Editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Shumaker, Grant McCool and Gerry Doyle)