WASHINGTON ― Republicans picked their replacement for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Wednesday but stopped short of holding an official vote on the House floor out of fear he might not have the votes.
After Republicans selected Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) as their nominee for speaker in a closed-door meeting, infighting threatened to bring about an embarrassing repeat of the marathon vote series it took to get McCarthy elected in January.
Instead, a floor vote to make Scalise the speaker was looking unlikely Wednesday night while he worked to lure holdouts to his corner.
Scalise beat out Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) by a vote of 113 to 99 that, if he ultimately is seated as speaker, would signal continuity with the current House GOP leadership team rather than the rightward move that would have likely followed a Jordan victory.
But that continuity could be part of Scalise’s problem.
“The House GOP Conference is broken. So we oust Kevin McCarthy and all other leaders are rewarded with promotions?” wrote Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) on social media. “How does that make sense or change anything?”
With a narrow majority over Democrats in the House, Republicans would need 217 of their 221 members to vote for the GOP candidate to ensure a Scalise win. McCarthy was ousted in a historic first when eight disgruntled Republicans voted with Democrats last week to remove him as speaker.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who is among what he thought were “at least 20” holdouts against Scalise, warned it could take a while to find a new speaker.
“Let’s be clear. January was a coronation. And it was difficult,” he said. “This is a competition and it’s going to be even more difficult.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) was concerned her colleagues won’t coalesce around Scalise. “I was hoping that the person who lost in conference would say, ‘I back the other person.’ That didn’t happen,” she said.
Jordan intends to vote for Scalise and encourages his colleagues to do the same, a source with direct knowledge of Jordan’s plans later indicated to HuffPost.
Some Republicans are still mad that McCarthy was thrown out of the speakership last week after moving legislation with Democratic votes to avert a government shutdown. Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) told HuffPost he would vote for McCarthy on the floor, even though McCarthy has said he’s not a candidate.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) came out against Scalise because he is battling blood cancer. In August, Scalise disclosed he has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. While he said in late September that his chemotherapy has meant “the cancer has dropped dramatically,” the diagnosis and concerns for his well-being were among the issues surrounding his candidacy for the speakership.
“I like Steve Scalise, and I like him so much that I want to see him defeat cancer more than sacrifice his health in the most difficult position in Congress,” Greene said on Twitter.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told HuffPost he voted “present” during the Republican conference meeting because neither Scalise nor Jordan were willing to renounce Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Jordan is one of Trump’s key backers on Capitol Hill, and he had Trump’s endorsement for the speakership.
Scalise, speaking to reporters after the conference vote, acknowledged he may not have the votes to win on the floor but said the the House needs to reopen for business after having been in a holding pattern since McCarthy’s ouster last week.
“Obviously, we still have work to do. We going to have to go upstairs on the House floor and resolve this and get the House reopened again,” he said.
Scalise was elected to Congress in 2008 after serving in the Louisiana legislature. He quietly but steadily worked his way up in the party leadership, becoming the third-ranking House Republican as whip in 2013 and then moving up to the second-in-command majority leader after Republicans won back the House in the 2022 elections.
He was one of a handful of House Republicans shot in 2017 during a practice for the annual congressional baseball charity game. While he recovered, the incident left him using a cane.
Scalise is also known for once describing himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” a reference to the former Ku Klux Klan white supremacist Louisiana politician. According to The New York Times, Scalise described himself that way to a local newspaper reporter.
He also accepted a speaking engagement from a Duke aide in 2002, but has said he did not know beforehand that he would be speaking to a white nationalist group and that he would not have accepted the offer had he known.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight Republicans who helped oust McCarthy and begin the search for a new speaker, said he would vote for Scalise.
Asked if he now regretted getting rid of McCarthy, Burchett said: “No. Absolutely not.”