House Republicans on Wednesday afternoon moved one step closer to electing a new Speaker, nominating Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise to lead the conference’s narrow majority after a small group of conservative dissidents ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a historic vote last week.
Scalise, the current Majority Leader, secured the nomination 113-99 in a closed-door conference meeting, defeating House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan in a close race that did not have a clear frontrunner heading into the secret ballot vote.
But House Republicans still face a significant hurdle: Scalise needs to get at least 217 votes in the full House to be officially elected Speaker by a majority vote, and it’s unclear whether he can amass that kind of support from the GOP as infighting continues to roil the conference. "I don't know how the hell you get to ," said Rep. Troy Nehls, a Texas Republican. "It could be a long week," he added, emphasizing the significant challenges in reaching a consensus.
As of Wednesday mid-afternoon, at least seven House Republicans had publicly vowed to vote against Scalise on the floor, with another seven lawmakers undecided, forcing leadership to consider delaying the full House vote in order to give Scalise more time to whip up support for his candidacy. “I’m not switching my vote,” Rep. Max Miller, an Ohio Republican who voted to nominate Jordan, said. “I’m Jim Jordan all the way.” Jordan has said that he would vote for Scalise and is urging his supporters to also back him.
The ongoing turmoil within the Republican conference and the vacant speakership have brought the House to a standstill at a time of domestic uncertainty and global crises. Without an elected Speaker, lawmakers have been unable to take action on approving aid for Israel or Ukraine, and are yet to pass the necessary spending bills before current funding runs out on Nov. 17. "It's really, really important that this Congress get back to work," Scalise said as he left the candidate forum on Tuesday night.
The removal of McCarthy as Speaker on Oct. 3 was orchestrated by a hard-right faction of eight lawmakers, highlighting the influence a small group can have in selecting their next leader. While both Scalise and Jordan had been working to secure support within the party, it remains uncertain whether either of them could win enough votes from their party to overcome Democratic opposition in the narrowly divided House. Many Republicans wish to avoid a repeat of the floor fight that occurred in January when McCarthy was elected Speaker, spanning 15 rounds over four days.
One of the central demands from moderate Republicans is a commitment to changing the rules to prevent the kind of floor vote that led to McCarthy's ouster. They want assurances that the government will not shut down in mid-November, and they seek to ensure that no single member will have the power to remove a sitting Speaker unilaterally.
Several moderate and establishment Republicans had expressed their support for Scalise given his role as the second-ranking Republican and his inspirational story of surviving a shooting at the congressional baseball practice in 2017, while Jordan, known as a political firebrand with close ties to Trump, received endorsements from more rightwing members of the House.
Scalise and Jordan have articulated similar positions on key Republican priorities, such as cutting spending and securing the southern border. While some lawmakers have expressed their willingness to support either candidate, more centrist conservative Republicans were still holding out for another choice ahead of Wednesday’s vote. “Personally, I’m still with McCarthy,” said Rep. David Valadao, a California Republican.
McCarthy, who became the first Speaker in history to be ousted, told House Republicans on Tuesday not to nominate him, though he signaled earlier that he would take the job if nominated. "I think it's important whoever takes that job is willing to risk the job for doing what's right for the American public," McCarthy said.
In a letter to his Republican colleagues seeking their support, Scalise outlined his achievements in advancing bills related to American energy production, border security, and parental involvement in education. He joined a minority of House Republicans in voting for sending $300 million in aid to Ukraine and temporarily extending federal funding, even when such measures faced conservative opposition.
Scalise's political journey began in the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he served from 1996 to 2007. He later won a special election to replace Bobby Jindal in Congress, and has since secured re-elections in his district, eventually rising through the ranks to become GOP whip from 2014 to 2022 and now the House Majority Leader. Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, the Republican Study Committee Chair, announced that he would run for Majority Leader now that Scalise is up for Speaker. Rep. Tom Emmer, the current Majority Whip, is also expected to run for the position.
Scalise’s Speaker bid may face some health-related obstacles. He was diagnosed with blood cancer over the summer and is currently undergoing intensive treatment. In 2017, he survived an assassination attempt during a congressional baseball practice, sustaining serious injuries that continue to affect him today, including a limp. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has vowed to vote against Scalise on the House floor, cited his battle with cancer as the reason she voted for Jordan.
He’s faced some controversies in the past. In 2014, it was revealed that he had spoken at a gathering of white nationalists in 2002. He later apologized, asserting that he would not have attended if he had been better informed about the group's nature. Another story emerged in 2014 that Scalise had described himself to a political reporter as "like David Duke without the baggage," referring to the former Klansman and white supremacist who was also a Louisiana politician.
All Democrats are expected to vote against Scalise’s nomination when it comes to the House floor. Rep. Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said on Wednesday that Democrats have had some friendly conversations with Scalise, calling him more “affable” than Jordan, who defied a subpoena for his testimony over the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Jim Jordan is dangerous to our democracy,” Aguilar said.
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