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Scalise wins GOP nomination for speaker

Unclear if Louisiana Republican can avoid another messy floor fight

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., is seen in the Capitol Visitor Center after an all-members briefing on the attack on Israel on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. Scalise and the House Republican Conference were heading to the speaker election in Longworth Building.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., is seen in the Capitol Visitor Center after an all-members briefing on the attack on Israel on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. Scalise and the House Republican Conference were heading to the speaker election in Longworth Building. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans selected Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., as the party’s nominee for speaker behind closed doors Wednesday morning — though questions remain if Scalise will be able to secure the 217 votes needed to win the position on the floor. 

Scalise defeated House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, paving the way for floor action as early as Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers leaving the GOP conference meeting said. The vote was 113-99, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Scalise would replace the former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was stunningly removed from his role by eight Republicans and all House Democrats after Florida Republican Matt Gaetz filed a motion to vacate the speaker position last week.

It was the second vote in Scalise’s favor Wednesday, after an effort to raise the threshold for the conference to select a speaker was tabled. 

[Scalise bid for speaker role follows nine years in House Republican leadership]

Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., introduced a measure that would have required the party’s selection for speaker to receive 217 votes in conference before moving to the floor. 

That attempt was rejected on a 135-88 vote. 

While proponents of that measure argued that it would save the party from a repeat of the messy floor fight that ended in McCarthy’s January election, opponents believed it would stretch out the election and empower any small group of members to make demands. 

However, that dynamic is still in play on the floor, as Scalise can only afford to lose four Republican votes and still become speaker. 

Some Jordan backers, including Ohio’s Max Miller and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, emerged from the conference meeting Wednesday saying they still planned to vote for Jordan on the floor. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who also voted for Jordan in conference, wrote a similar message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Scalise appeared to shore up support from others, however, including Gaetz, who previously had been uncommitted but has said positive things about both candidates.

“Long live Speaker Scalise,” Gaetz said after the vote Wednesday.

Reps. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., and Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., who were among the eight Republicans who voted to depose McCarthy, said they would support Scalise on the floor.

Other Jordan supporters said they would back Scalise, including Byron Donalds of Florida, Keith Self of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., another Jordan backer, said he wasn’t sure yet and planned to meet with Scalise prior to the floor vote. Massie said he was concerned Scalise doesn’t have the votes to secure a majority on the floor.

Later, Massie said that he told Scalise he can’t support him on the floor because Scalise “has not articulated a viable plan for avoiding an omnibus” spending package.

The House was scheduled to gavel in at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, at which time the nominating speeches could get underway, followed by votes. But lawmakers said it was up to Scalise when the process would begin on the floor, and he didn’t say specifically that a vote was on track for Wednesday.

“I think that what’s going to happen at 3 o’clock is going to be a continuation of the chaos that has plagued the House,” Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, a Jordan supporter, said the conference ought to have another closed-door meeting to discuss the process before letting any floor drama play out.

Later, a source familiar with the discussions said the plan at 3 p.m. was simply to gavel in and promptly recess so that GOP lawmakers could continue to hash it out in private.

‘Back to work’

Scalise, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, served as the Republican whip in both the majority and minority from 2014 to his ascension to majority leader. 

During the election, Scalise has focused on unifying the conference in his pitch. He’s also highlighted border security, fighting inflation and oversight of the Biden administration as top priorities of House Republicans. 

Reps. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, and John James, R-Mich., gave the nominating speeches for Scalise. 

Scalise will now have to wrangle 217 votes from a rowdy Republican conference, many of whom backed Jordan in the conference vote. 

If he secures the votes necessary on the floor, Scalise will be undergoing treatment for blood cancer at the start of his speakership. 

He announced his diagnosis in April and said he would be undergoing “several months” of treatment for the disease. 

After receiving a briefing on the Israel situation earlier in the day Wednesday, Scalise said that would be his priority if elected speaker.

“It’s really, really important that this Congress get back to work,” Scalise said. “And the first order of business under Speaker Steve Scalise is going to be offering a strong resolution expressing support for Israel.”

Added Scalise: “We’ve got to get back to work today. We’re going to do that.”

Caitlin Reilly, David Lerman and Justin Papp contributed to this report.