The jockeying to succeed Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House speaker formally picked up Wednesday, as Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan both said they would seek the top role.
Rep. Kevin Hern, the chair of the Republican Study Committee, is also considering a bid for the job. All three spoke to members of the Texas delegation on Wednesday as members began weighing who they might support and House Republicans sought to move on from a chaotic floor battle the day before.
But as some Republicans were lining up behind Scalise or Jordan, others were calling for other candidates. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he thought Florida Rep. Byron Donalds should be considered. Texas Rep. Troy Nehls has called for former President Donald Trump to take the role. The Constitution does not require the speaker to be a sitting House member, though it always has been.
The next speaker will have to unify a conference that holds a narrow majority while trying to expand it in 2024. The vote to oust McCarthy on Tuesday was 216-210, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in supporting a resolution by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., declaring the speaker’s office vacant.
Scalise, who has been McCarthy’s No. 2, wrote in a letter to colleagues that they “know my leadership style I’ve displayed as your Majority Leader and Whip.” He referenced the 2017 shooting at a Congressional Baseball Game practice that nearly took his life, saying that affirmed his belief that the Republican conference is a family.
“I know the coming weeks ahead will be some of the most arduous times we will face together, but this Conference is worth fighting for – we cannot lose sight of our shared mission,” he wrote. “Now, more than ever, we must mend the deep wounds that exist within our Conference and focus on our objectives so we can get back to work for the millions of people who are counting on us.”
Scalise outlined many of the tasks that Republicans will have to address in the coming weeks, including oversight of the Biden administration and funding the government beyond Nov. 17, when a short-term spending law that directly led to McCarthy’s ouster expires.
Jordan, meanwhile, said in his own “Dear Colleague” letter that Republicans need to address crime and the border, as well as “get our fiscal house in order.”
“We are at a critical crossroads in our nation’s history,” he wrote. “Now is the time for our Republican conference to come together to keep our promises to America. The problems we face are challenging, but they are not insurmountable.”
Jordan told reporters that he opposes an aid package for Ukraine.
“At some point we’re going to have to deal with this appropriations process in the right way,” he said. “We’re going to try to do that in the next, what are we down to, 41 days. The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine. It is the border situation and it is crime on the streets and everybody knows that, so let’s address those.”
Hern told reporters after the lunch that he has skills from his business career that could help unify the conference, and that people had asked him to consider running.
“I think everybody knows I’m very conservative. I’ve been very pro-life,” he said. “I’m probably one of the most conservative members in Congress…I think that’s important for the Republican Party to know that.”
“I think we need to be pointing our guns outward, not at each other, and making sure that we’re doing the right thing as far as moving forward, moving with conservative policies and getting our conservative conference back on track,” he added.
On Wednesday, Texas Republicans who heard from Scalise, Jordan and Hern said that all three had similar policy priorities. Border security was “top of mind for all three people we heard, which is obviously important to Texans,” said Rep. August Pfluger.
“We need to know who’s going to be able to unify the different factions of the conference,” he said.
The speaker vacancy could lead to further shuffling in the GOP leadership ranks. Majority Whip Tom Emmer has expressed interest in becoming majority leader if that becomes open, while Reps. Drew Ferguson and Guy Reschenthaler are interested in the whip position, according to a source familiar.
Rep. Garret Graves, a McCarthy ally, told reporters he thought it would be a “mistake right now” to give everyone in leadership an automatic one-step promotion. He said he’s not currently backing anyone for the top job, but that members should think about the compatibility of a new leadership team.
“Oftentimes people look just at that one position: Who’s the best person for majority leader?” he said. “Being in the leadership rooms for the last several months, I think the chemistry of that overall team is really important to make sure that everyone in the conference feels that they have a voice at that table and that they feel represented.”
Republicans may also consider rules changes, including whether to change the one that led to McCarthy’s ouster, which currently lets a single member offer a motion to vacate the speaker’s office. That could be a condition of the speaker vote, but some members said a conference-wide discussion would likely happen after a speaker is elected.
“This motion to vacate of one person disrupting the entire House and holding everybody hostage, it needs to go. It is not a workable situation,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., said Wednesday morning on CNN.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also told reporters that Republicans should make that change because it would make governing easier.
“I hope whoever the next speaker is gets rid of the motion to vacate. I think it makes the speaker’s job impossible and the American people expect us to have a functioning government,” he said.
Aidan Quigley and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.