UPDATED, 5:14 p.m.: Steve Scalise said Thursday that he was withdrawing from the race for Speaker of the House, one day after he got his party nomination for the post, adding to the disarray in the House Republican caucus.
“If you look at the last few weeks, if you look at where our conference is, there is still work to be done,” Scalise told reporters. “Our conference still has to come together and is not there. There are still some people with their own agendas. And I was very clear. We have to have everyone put their agendas on the side and focus on what the country needs.”
He added that there “are still schisms that have to be resolved.” “There are some folks that really need to look in the mirror over the next couple of days and decide, are we going to get it back on track, or are you going to try to pursue your own agenda? You can’t do both.” He said “nobody is going to use me as an excuse to hold back our ability to get the House open again.”
Scalise said that he would stay on as majority leader, but his withdrawal now creates new uncertainty over whether there is any figure in the caucus who can garner 217 Republican votes to become speaker.
On Wednesday, Scalise narrowly won the GOP nomination for speaker over Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). But Scalise then struggled to win over holdouts still needed to give him a majority in a public floor vote.
The focus now shifts to Jordan as an alternative, but he too may have trouble winning over moderates in the caucus. Another option that has been floated is to increase the powers of the current speaker pro tem, Rep. Pat McHenry (R-NC), on at least a temporary basis.
PREVIOUSLY, Oct. 12, 12:45 p.m.: “Frustrating.” That’s what Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) said after an early afternoon closed door meeting of the House Republican caucus, as the party nominee for speaker, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, is struggling to nail down the votes to win a majority on the floor.
A block-long throng of journalists lined a corridor in a Capitol basement just outside the room where Republicans were gathering, but as members trickled out, the situation became clear: The House GOP was far from unified. Splintered is more like it.
“It’s not even a five families deal,” Donalds told reporters. “It’s not even that. I think …this is member to member.”
Scalise narrowly won a majority of the caucus secret ballot on a speaker nomination on Wednesday, beating Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in a 113-99 vote. Although Jordan then offered his support, Scalise still remained far short of the 217 needed to win the speakership. He called the meeting of the caucus today to try to address concerns, but lawmakers left without giving any indication that he is close to achieving that threshold. He can lose only four votes, given that Democrats are likely to remain united behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
The GOP meeting was described by one member as “pretty emotional,” as the party has struggled to unite behind new leadership, preventing the House from taking action on legislation on the floor. The to-do list is getting longer, with an aid package for Israel now in the mix of priorities. There’s also the prospect of Congress being unable to pass government funding legislation before a deadline next month.
As she left the meeting, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) held several scrums with a horde of reporters, defending her tweet sent on Wednesday in which she said that she was not supporting Scalise because he is undergoing cancer treatment. “When you’re in a tight game you don’t put an injured player or a sick player on the field,” she said. Former President Donald Trump weighed in against Scalise today, also citing health reasons.
Greene also said that the party should just take the speaker vote to the floor. “I don’t know what leadership is waiting on,” she said. “The best thing is to get to the floor and start voting.”
But in a further sign of the divisions, Donalds said that he would oppose such a move, saying that the GOP should work out the speaker selection among themselves. Donalds said that he supports Scalise, but he and other members are wary of another public protracted speaker process, as is what happened with Kevin McCarthy in January. He ultimately was elected speaker after 15 votes, only to see eight members join with Democrats in a vote to oust him last week.
“We’re talking about the second most powerful position, frankly in the world, as speaker of the House, and in my view this is not something that is going to be easy,” Donalds said.
Scalise was expected to meet later tonight with members, but whether that includes the entire caucus was unclear. Another idea that has been floated is to vest more powers in the current speaker pro tem, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), but even that has opposition within the conference.
Rep. Jennifer Kiggans (R-VA) told reporters that “I want to make sure we can keep our majority in the House. I”m concerned about that as well. …I’m frustrated. We have got to get to work.”
Opponents of Scalise have raised a number of issues, including his health and that he was part of the GOP leadership in deals with the Biden administration on the debt ceiling, and then to move to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open.
UPDATED, October 11 PM: The House speaker vote will not take place today, CNN reported, an indication that the nominee for the job, Steve Scalise, does not have the votes.
He reportedly was given a boost by his rival, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who plans to back him.
But the GOP has such a slim majority in the House — 221-212 — that Scalise can only lose four GOP votes. Democrats are expected to remain united behind their choice for speaker, Hakeem Jeffries.
PREVIOUSLY, Oct. 11, 11 a.m.: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) won the Republican nomination to serve as the next speaker of the House, setting up a vote, potentially later today, on the floor.
Scalise now needs to get 217 votes of the full House to become speaker, a far from certain prospect given the Republicans narrow majority and Democrats’ plans to nominate and unite behind their party leader, Hakeem Jeffries. In a behind-closed-doors meeting of the GOP caucus, Scalise defeated Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). The vote was 113-99.
Republicans want to prevent an extended floor fight, which is what happened in January, when Kevin McCarthy went 15 rounds before he was elected speaker late on a Friday evening. But McCarthy had to make concessions to hard-right Republicans, including one that made it easier for just one member to call for a vote to remove him. That is what happened last week, when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) led a successful effort to oust McCarthy.
Republicans gathered in private in a House office building, with reporters staked out to capture lawmakers as they exited. CNN’s Manu Raju corralled a few members as they left, and got a mixture of reactions.
Scalise was diagnosed with multiple myeloma earlier this year and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments. In 2017, he was seriously wounded by a mass shooter during a GOP lawmaker practice session for a congressional baseball game. Scalise has been in the House since 2008.
It’s unclear when the full House will vote for speaker, although there were reports that Scalise wanted it to be taken up on the floor today. That’s complicated by the mixed messages from lawmakers. If all Democrats remain unified behind Jeffries, Scalise can only lose a handful of votes in order to obtain a majority.
“We still have work to do,” Scalise told reporters after the vote.
He added, “We need to make sure we are sending a message to people throughout the world that the House is open and we are doing the people’s business.”
Jordan, who had the endorsement of Donald Trump, is known as one of the former president’s staunchest defenders, as well as his attacks on Democrats and social media companies in House Judiciary Committee hearings. More moderate Republicans, particularly those in districts won by Joe Biden in 2020, had concerns over electing him speaker.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) wrote on X/Twitter that he was planning to hold out on his vote for Scalise as of now. Massie wrote that he “let Scalise know in person that he doesn’t have my vote on the floor, because he has not articulated a viable plan for avoiding an omnibus.” Massie was referring to massive spending bills that Congress has passed in lieu of individual legislation for funding different sectors of the government.