Hard-line Republicans won’t back Scalise for speaker

Oct 12, 2023, 4:45 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm

U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaks to reporters as he leaves a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. House Republicans continue to debate their pick for Speaker after Scalise, their initial nominee, failed to secure the number of votes needed. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on a replacement for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) after he was ousted last week. (Chip Somodevilla /Getty Images)


WASHINGTON (AP) — Nominated to be House speaker, Rep. Steve Scalise on Thursday ran straight into a familiar, intensifying Republican problem: Skeptical GOP colleagues are refusing to give their support, denying him the majority vote needed to win the gavel.

Frustrations mounted as the crisis deepened and Republicans lost another day without a House speaker. Scalise must peel off more than 100 votes, mostly from those who backed his chief rival, Rep. Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chairman favored by hard-liners, who announced he was no longer in the running and tossed his vote to Scalise.

But many hard-liners taking their cues from Donald Trump have dug in for a prolonged fight to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy after his historic ouster from the job. They argue that Majority Leader Scalise is no better choice, that he should be focusing on his health as he battles cancer and that he is not the leader they will support. No House votes were scheduled.

“We’re going to get this done,” Scalise said after another closed-door meeting at the Capitol,

Scalise, R-La., said he took every question thrown his way and pledged during the two-hour session to work through the issues raised. But there is no easy endgame in sight.

“Time is of the essence,” McCarthy said when he arrived at the Capitol.

Asked if it was still possible for Scalise to find enough support, McCarthy said: “It’s possible — it’s a big hill, though.”

The House is entering its second week without a speaker and is essentially unable to function, and the political pressure increasingly is on Republicans to reverse course, reassert majority control and govern in Congress.

Action is needed to fund the government or face the threat of a federal shutdown in a month. Lawmakers also want Congress to deliver a strong statement of support for Israel in the war with Hamas, but a bipartisan resolution has been sidelined by the stalemate in the House. The White House is expected to soon ask for money for Israel, Ukraine and the backfill of the U.S. weapons stockpile.

The situation is not fully different from the start of the year, when McCarthy faced a similar backlash from a different group of far-right holdouts who ultimately gave their votes to elect him speaker, then engineered his historic downfall.

But the math this time is even more daunting. Scalise, who is seen by some colleagues as hero for having survived a 2017 shooting on lawmakers at a congressional baseball game practice, won the closed-door Republican vote 113-99. But McCarthy, R-Calif., noted that Scalise, a longtime rival, had indicated he would have 150 votes behind closed doors, but missed that mark.

Scalise now needs 217 votes to reach a majority that likely will be needed in a floor battle with Democrats. The chamber is narrowly split 221-212, with two vacancies, meaning Scalise can lose just a few Republicans in the face of opposition from Democrats who will most certainly back their own leader, New York Rep, Hakeem Jeffries. Absences heading into the weekend could lower the majority threshold needed.

Exasperated Democrats, who have been watching and waiting for the Republican majority to recover from McCarthy’s ouster, urged them to figure it out, warning the world is watching.

“The House Republicans need to end the GOP Civil War, now,” Jeffries said.

“The House Democrats have continued to make clear that we are ready, willing and able to find a bipartisan path forward,” he said, urging that the House reopen and change GOP-led rules that allowed a single lawmaker to put in motion the process to remove the speaker.

As Congress sat idle, the Republicans spent a second day behind closed doors, arguing and airing grievances but failing to follow their own party rules and unite behind the nominee.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said the meeting so far had been marked by “emotional” objections to voting for Scalise.

“It’s not for your personal grievances, but that’s unfortunately what I keep seeing,” he said.

Some Republicans simply took their Chick-fil-A lunches to go.

Jordan, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus who was backed by Trump in the speaker’s race, announced he did not plan to continue running for the leadership position.

“We need to come together and support Steve,” Jordan told reporters before the closed session.

It was the most vocal endorsement yet from Jordan who had earlier offered to give his rival a nominating speech on the floor, and privately was telling lawmakers he would vote Scalise is encouraging his colleagues to do the same.

But it was not enough to sway the holdouts.

Handfuls of hard-liners announced they were sticking with Jordan, McCarthy or someone other than Scalise.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, reaffirmed his support for Trump as speaker; the position does not need to go to a member of Congress.

Trump, the front-runner to 2024 GOP presidential nomination, repeatedly discussed Scalise’s health during a radio interview that aired Thursday.

“Well, I like Steve. I like both of them very much. But the problem, you know, Steve is a man that is in serious trouble, from the standpoint of his cancer,” Trump said on Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show.

Scalise has been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma and is being treated.

“I think it’s going to be very hard, maybe in either case, for somebody to get,” Trump said. “And then you end up in one of these crazy stalemates. It’s a very interesting situation.”

Otherwise, Trump is expected to take a hands-off approach to the internal GOP fight now that Scalise, rather than his choice of Jordan, is the nominee, according to one person familiar with Trump’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Many Republicans want to prevent the spectacle of a messy House floor fight like the grueling January brawl when McCarthy became speaker.

But others said it was time for Republicans to get out from behind closed doors and vote.

“Stop dragging it out,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on social media. “If Kevin McCarthy had to go 15 rounds then the next Speaker should be able to do the same or more if they have to.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New York and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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Hard-line Republicans won’t back Scalise for speaker