By late Wednesday evening, as Scalise struggled to gain sufficient support from members who backed Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or neither candidate in the closed-door vote, some Republicans began to lay the groundwork for an alternate candidate apart from Jordan and Scalise if Scalise formally steps aside.
Scalise called for Republicans to meet just after noon Thursday in an attempt to address the divisions as a conference and settle any concerns that people have with him. It’s still unclear if a roll-call vote will be held on the floor at any point Thursday to try to elect a speaker. Some argue that failure to elect a speaker in another roll call vote would be counterproductive for the divided party, but others say it’s needed to determine where everyone stands.
Scalise has had days to shore up support after the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had spent weeks working to garner support for his speaker bid. Scalise held conversations all night and into the morning that have gone well, according to a person familiar with the talks who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.
Democrats have asked for 24 hours’ notice before any vote, but Republicans are not inclined to give it to them.
Jordan, who narrowly lost his internal bid among Republicans for speaker, is the only other candidate for speaker right now. While his aides say Jordan is asking his supporters to back Scalise, Jordan hasn’t formally dropped out of the race, and he has a committed group of supporters.
But multiple aides and lawmakers say Jordan can’t get 217 Republican votes, either. His refusal to wholeheartedly back Scalise, rally his supporters behind him and accept the speaker election results has created a significant group of never-Jordan Republicans.
Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) is calling members of the conference to make his pitch for majority leader, but some Republicans are encouraging him to run for speaker instead if Scalise steps aside, according to two lawmakers who have heard directly from Emmer. Multiple Republican aides familiar with the conversations that Emmer has had also confirmed that he will consider his options.
“I support Steve Scalise,” Emmer said Thursday. “Nobody should want that job.”
Hard-line conservatives had been advocating for Emmer once efforts to remove McCarthy as speaker began to formalize late last month. Some Republicans said that Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who chairs the Republican Study Committee, is mulling a bid for speaker, too, after announcing he would run as a “policy-focused conservative majority leader” on Wednesday.
“All the focus right now should be on uniting around the Speaker-Designate who received the most support in Conference,” Hern said in a statement, referencing his support for Scalise.
Several Republicans sense that Scalise will not give up the fight to convince lawmakers he deserves to be speaker after working toward the top post for almost 10 years in leadership. Whether Scalise will step aside remains unclear, but hours ticking by with a shuttered House floor increases the pressure for him to remove himself from the conversation and for a candidate who can win 217 votes to step up.
House Republicans’ failure to coalesce around a speaker has not only exposed their deep ideological divisions but also their inability to govern as the majority party. Since eight Republicans voted to oust McCarthy as speaker last week, the House has remained in a complete standstill. It cannot consider any legislation to aid Israel in its war against Hamas — something many lawmakers in both parties want — nor pass any appropriations bills to avoid a potential government shutdown in mid-November until a speaker is elected.
There also are growing calls from various ideological factions to extend the powers of Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) so the House can begin to address critical pieces of legislation. But such a move is unprecedented and would require changing the House rules — and might need Democratic support to do so. Current rules state that the temporary position exists only to facilitate and oversee the election of a speaker.
Scalise failed to garner the support of 217 Republicans in their close-door conference meeting Wednesday, predicting that he would be able to unite the party. But that didn’t happen.
After he won 113 votes in the conference meeting, a simple majority as required by Republicans’ rules, he gave a rousing speech to try to achieve party unity. But some Republicans immediately came out in opposition for a variety of reasons. Some pointed to Scalise’s lack of a plan to fund the government, lingering anger that McCarthy lost the job, opposition to giving the next person in line to McCarthy a promotion, and making unrealistic promises to some members that others saw as a continuation of how McCarthy governed.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) left a meeting with Scalise Wednesday evening and announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she had secured numerous hard-right assurances from him in exchange for her vote. Many pragmatic and governing-centered Republicans privately stressed that such deals were unfair to the rest of the conference and made them question supporting Scalise.
“In Washington, D.C., you make false friends and true enemies,” one House Republican said. “And Steve Scalise has made way too many of both.”
But other GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Steve Womack (Ark.) and Tom Cole (Okla.), pushed back Thursday on the notion that Scalise was making any promises to people in exchange for their vote.
“No deals,” said Cole, who is chair of the House Rules Committee. “He’s meeting with members, but he’ll make it very clear today, ‘Look, I’m not cutting any deals with anybody.’”
By Thursday afternoon, Luna announced she would no longer be voting for Scalise, after all.
“There is no consensus candidate for speaker. We need to stay in Washington till we figure this out,” Luna wrote in a social media post.
Many lawmakers were angry at what they say was a serious lapse of judgment when Scalise worked to block a proposed conference rule change that would have kept House Republicans voting behind closed doors until a speaker nominee earned 217 votes. A vote on the proposed rule change failed in Wednesday’s meeting after Scalise and his allies whipped against the measure, knowing that tabling it would allow him to grab the nomination with a simple majority and betting that Republicans would simply coalesce around him.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who proposed the resolution that was backed by roughly 100 Republicans, called that bet a serious “mistake.”
Jordan and his allies believe that if Scalise’s chance of becoming speaker weakens, it could help the Judiciary Committee chairman earn more members’ support, according to two people familiar with the thinking. But significant pockets of opposition exist for Jordan, too, with several conservatives telegraphing they remain undecided about him.
Several members who were leaning toward supporting Jordan were repelled when he missed the chance in Wednesday’s conference meeting to say he would back Scalise on the House floor and direct his allies to do the same. A spokesperson for the Judiciary chairman later clarified that Jordan would back Scalise and offer to give a nominating speech on his behalf, but lawmakers were not convinced.
Because there is now bad blood between Scalise and Jordan allies over how each group handled the outcome of the conference election, some Republicans noted it is not guaranteed that Scalise’s supporters would move to Jordan’s camp.
“Jordan doesn’t have a path, either,” one Republican lawmaker said.
Moderate Republicans continue to feel it is particularly risky to vote for Jordan, who is closely aligned with former president Donald Trump. While members do not know what kind of policy prescriptions Jordan would make the House vote on, swing-district Republicans worry that his MAGA bona fides and name recognition nationally could negatively affect their reelection chances.
Trump endorsed Jordan for speaker but stayed uncharacteristically quiet this week as the conference met and ultimately nominated Scalise. On Thursday, Trump told Fox News that it seemed unlikely either Scalise or Jordan could get to 217 votes. Trump also expressed reservations over Scalise’s health, as the Louisiana Republican undergoes treatment for multiple myeloma.
“Steve is a man that is in serious trouble from the standpoint of his cancer,” Trump said. “I mean, he’s got to get better for himself. I’m not talking about even country now.”
Luna, who changed her mind about supporting Scalise, suggested Thursday that there was a group of lawmakers who would back whomever Trump said they should for speaker.
Concerns about both Scalise’s and Jordan’s past controversies are starting to surface, too. Several swing-district Republicans have expressed renewed concern after becoming aware that Scalise spoke at a White supremacist rally in 2002 while serving as a state representative in Louisiana. When his attendance received attention in national news over a decade later, a Scalise adviser confirmed he spoke at an event founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, but said that he denied knowing that the event was affiliated with racists and neo-Nazis.
Jordan has been accused by several Ohio State wrestlers of knowing about sexual abuse allegations against the team’s doctor when he was a coach but doing nothing about it. An Ohio State independent investigation into the abuse did not make “conclusive determinations” about whether particular employees knew about the abuse by Richard Strauss, but a report issued later in 2019 said coaches did know.
Both Jordan and Scalise also voted against certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, but Republicans have not brought that up as a point of concern.
Many other moderate Republicans have expressed similar concerns over Scalise’s past, but they have not done the same with Jordan.
A crowded field for the speakership if Scalise ends his campaign could also jeopardize Jordan’s efforts.
Some staunch conservatives consider Emmer to be a candidate who could unite Republicans because he has relationships across the conference’s ideological spectrum. Since he has served in leadership only this year, far-right members do not view Emmer as an establishment figure, like McCarthy and Scalise. They also appreciate his bluntness, rather than what several members have described as McCarthy’s tendency to say what members want to hear. But others view Emmer, who has been in the House since 2015, as too inexperienced to be speaker.
Moderates in the conference, including those who represent swing districts that Biden won in 2020, like Emmer because he helped them get elected over the past two terms in which he served as the National Republican Campaign Committee chairman. Holding that post has also proved to members that he can raise funds, a key void that needs to be filled after McCarthy, who is widely considered a master fundraiser.
Hern is also mulling a bid for speaker if Scalise or Jordan cannot get the 217 votes needed to win. He spent last week making his pitch to colleagues and cited his business experience — he has operated 18 McDonald’s franchises in addition to other ventures — as a key reason he could bring a fresh approach to the job. He ultimately decided against declaring a bid over the weekend after speaking to all of his 221 colleagues, many of whom said that a three-way-race for speaker would only fracture the conference further.
Jacqueline Alemany, Theodoric Meyer, Liz Goodwin, Mariana Alfaro and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.
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