Majority Leader Steve Scalise is scrambling to lock down the votes to become the next House speaker, but protracted opposition to the Louisiana Republican inside the GOP conference could ultimately derail his bid.
Republicans are worried that Scalise is facing grim prospects of becoming speaker, an impasse that threatens to prolong the GOP’s leadership crisis that has left the House paralyzed and unable to move on any legislation.
Late Wednesday, members of the conference were beginning to weigh how they would handle the potential collapse of his bid, with several GOP sources saying they believe they’d have to consider a new candidate who has yet to run for the speakership.
Several senior Republicans see little path to 217 votes, after Scalise won just 113 votes in the GOP conference, which includes three delegates who don’t have a vote on the House floor. Making up that deficit in just a matter of days is an extremely tall order – plus a number of hard-right Republicans say they are dead-set against Scalise, when he can only afford to lose four GOP votes on the floor.
Scalise is facing more than a dozen holdouts unwilling at this point to back him on the floor, according to multiple GOP sources. Scalise spent Wednesday after the vote meeting individually with GOP members as he and his whip operation tried to convince the holdouts to come around, the sources said. He found some success in the outreach, but it’s not yet clear whether he can win over enough Republicans to overcome the razor-thin GOP House majority.
Scalise or any other Republican candidate for speaker needs 217 votes to win the speaker’s gavel, a majority of the entire House, meaning they can only afford to lose four Republicans if every member is voting.
The opposition to Scalise inside his party has thrown into doubt how Republicans will get out of their speaker conundrum that’s left them simply unable to govern.
While there was some belief on Capitol Hill that the brutal assault on Israel over the weekend might prompt Republicans to quickly select a leader – House lawmakers were given a classified briefing on Israel Wednesday before the conference vote for speaker – the deep divisions in the conference that led to Kevin McCarthy’s removal last week have now left the quest for a new speaker at a standstill.
Anger inside the conference is rising.
“These folks are destroying our conference and apparently want to be in the minority,” said Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a swing Nebraska district. “They don’t respect the customs of the House that have gone on for over two centuries.”
The House gavels back in at noon Thursday, but there’s no indication Republicans will be ready to vote on a speaker.
Scalise is facing broad skepticism inside the far-right House Freedom Caucus, a key bloc of Republicans who mostly supported the Trump-backed Jim Jordan for speaker, multiple sources told CNN, citing a general lack of trust with Republican leadership. Scalise has been in leadership years, although he is more conservative than McCarthy.
Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, threw his weight behind Scalise following Wednesday’s vote, saying he was encouraging his supporters to do the same. “We need a speaker and Steve is the guy for that. Like I said, I have offered to give a nominating speech for him,” the Ohio Republican told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
But there was a cohort of lawmakers who expressed staunch opposition to voting for Scalise on the House floor.
“Well, Leader Scalise won, and it’s not over. I’m still throwing my support behind Jim Jordan for speaker. I’m not going to change my vote now or any time soon on the House floor,” said GOP Rep. Max Miller of Ohio.
Scalise’s individual outreach did peel off at least one holdout. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who initially said Wednesday that she would vote for Jordan on the floor, met with Scalise and said afterward she felt “comfortable” enough to support his speaker nomination.
While she said he did not make specific commitments, he did assure her that he’ll allow her to “aggressively” do her job on the Oversight Committee, which is part of the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
But Luna said she would only back Scalise for the speakership on the first ballot. If it went to multiple ballots, she said, “we must find a candidate” the conference can unite behind.
Still, a number of Republicans don’t think that Jordan could be a viable alternative given that he lost to Scalise in the nominating contest, and some Republicans were irritated when he didn’t immediately close ranks behind Scalise.
“If Scalise were not to make it, the next person got less votes,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida said of Jordan. “And by the way, I think, more controversial. So that would not be a good thing for this place.”
Rep. Erin Houchin of Indiana said she doesn’t know if “it will be Jordan or Scalise or even someone else at this point. … I think we’re in uncharted territory, and it’s gonna be very hard to predict.”
Another GOP member said that it would have to be a new candidate altogether, something that would take longer to sort out.
“Steve is nowhere near 217,” said the Republican member.
Leaving the floor without a vote Wednesday, interim Speaker Patrick McHenry tried to be optimistic the House GOP conference would solve the impasse soon.
Asked if there could be a floor vote Thursday, the North Carolina Republican said, “That’s the hope.”
Could anyone get the 217 votes required? He had the same response: “That’s the hope.”