House Majority Leader Steve Scalise didn’t have much of a chance to celebrate Wednesday after he eked out a win to be the Republican nominee for speaker. The votes had barely been counted before the opposition began making itself loudly heard—and in numbers that could deny him the job. That wasn’t what Scalise counted on, of course. He seemed to assume, like former Speaker Kevin McCarthy before him, that once he got the nod, the conference would fall in behind him and he could bulldoze his way to a floor vote. Also, like McCarthy, he seriously underestimated the absolute love of chaos in his party. But unlike McCarthy, who had weeks to lobby support for his bid, Scalise has had days.
Scalise’s narrow victory of 113 votes to Rep. Jim Jordan’s 99 was made even smaller when it became clear that three of his votes came from the congressional delegates from U.S. territories who won’t be allowed to vote in the floor election. Effectively, he’s starting with 110 votes and needs to turn 107 people to his side. Punchbowl News puts the “real hard-core ‘Never Scalise’ vote” at between 20 and 30, ranging from a core group of moderates who are still pissed that McCarthy was forced out, to the very far-right fringes of the party.
Because they are Republicans, some opposition is petty and personal. Like Rep. George Santos of New York, who was hit with the news of 23 more felony counts in the federal indictment against him while the speaker vote was happening. Scalise hasn’t personally reached out to him, Santos tweeted, and so he said that “ANYONE but Scalise and come hell or high water I won’t change my mind.”
Then there’s Freedom Caucus stalwart Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who is still mad that his big idea for a new rule failed. He pushed a rule requiring that the nominee had to have 217 votes in the GOP conference to move to the floor. It went to a vote and was rejected 135-88, but he blames Scalise and his allies anyway. Thus he’s a “hard no.”
So is Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who says she just discovered that Scalise “attended a white supremacist conference and also compared himself to David Duke.” Mace remains unperturbed by the allegations that the guy she’s backing, Jordan, turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of multiple young men while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State University. She even went on CNN to tell a dumbfounded Jake Tapper that Jordan was the guy to build bridges to Democrats.
On the other hand, some of the people who brought down McCarthy are backing Scalise, including Reps. Matt Rosendale of Montana, Eli Crane of Arizona, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, and yes, Matt Gaetz of Florida. What, if anything, Scalise has promised them we don’t know yet. We do know he told Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida that he was with her on her top priorities: “1. Defunding Jack Smith 2. Impeachment vote for Biden on floor of House 3. Subpoena for Hunter Biden.”
Of course, that Scalise is relying on those people for support shows just how shaky this venture is for him. He’s also not expected to get any help from Donald Trump, which makes Scalise’s MAGA support even more questionable. The people he needs to rely on to help him herd these rattlesnakes all seem to be preoccupied with the fight for their own climb up the leadership ladder.
What happens next, and when it happens, is unclear at the moment. The House convenes in the early afternoon but will probably immediately go into recess. The Republican conference is meeting privately again at 12:15 PM ET. A vote Thursday seems unlikely.