House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s bid for speaker was on shaky ground Wednesday as Republicans went back behind closed doors to figure out next steps even after selecting the Louisianan as their nominee during a morning conference meeting.
Several conservatives said they won’t support Scalise on the floor, even as his top rival for the job, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is supporting him and encouraging others to do so. Instead of kicking off the formal nominating speeches and votes on the floor Wednesday after coming into session at 3 p.m., Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry recessed the chamber.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, later told reporters there wouldn’t be any votes in the House on Wednesday. Roy, a Jordan supporter, said he opposed a quick floor vote on Wednesday so soon after the conference nominating meeting, which didn’t wrap up until Wednesday afternoon, and that he wouldn’t back Scalise if the vote occurred the same day.
Roy met with Scalise later on Wednesday, but wouldn’t say whether he was swayed or if Scalise made any concessions to win his and others’ votes.
“I’m just gonna say that my primary concern is what unfolded over the last 48 hours was not what I thought the way we should do things, I’ll just put it to you that way,” Roy said.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said Republicans originally thought they could bring the speaker vote to the floor Wednesday. Democrats sought 24 hours’ notice and McHenry denied it, he said, so he had remained hopeful that they could have a floor vote Wednesday afternoon.
Womack said the timing would depend on Scalise’s team making a plan to reach out to Jordan supporters and a few lawmakers who voted “present” in conference rather than choosing a candidate. “My guess is tomorrow sometime,” he said.
The House adjourned for the night before 7 p.m. An advisory from House Democrats said votes were “possible” Thursday, and the chamber is scheduled to gavel back into session at noon.
Scalise, who defeated Jordan on a secret ballot vote earlier Wednesday, did not appear to have the requisite support of 217 Republicans needed to become speaker, if all members are present and voting. Republicans have hoped to avoid the 15 rounds of voting it took for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — who was ousted from the job by eight Republicans and all House Democrats last week — to become speaker in January.
[Related: Scalise wins GOP nomination for speaker]
Jordan, who met with Scalise in private after the GOP conference meeting, plans to vote for Scalise on the floor and is encouraging his colleagues to do the same, according to a source with knowledge of the talks.
But Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a Jordan supporter, said after a meeting with Scalise that he believes at least 20 members would not support him on the floor. Massie said he’s uncomfortable with Scalise’s plan for appropriations, and believes the speaker nominee should use the 1 percent across-the-board cut that would take effect in April under the debt limit law as leverage.
“Not only do I not feel comfortable with Scalise’s plan, I think he’s not properly setting expectations,” Massie said.
Earlier, Massie wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he told Scalise personally he wouldn’t vote for him because he hadn’t laid out a viable plan for avoiding an omnibus spending package, which carries appropriations bills as a unit rather than individually.
Massie told reporters earlier Wednesday that Scalise knew who was for and against him going into the secret-ballot GOP conference vote. “The nominee needs to now call all the people who weren’t for the nominee and see what they need to get to ‘yes’ on the floor,” Massie said.
Jordan is not seeking to move into Scalise’s current position as majority leader, a spokesperson said. Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma have begun vying for the job now that Scalise has the nomination to become speaker.
In addition to Massie, a contingent of Jordan’s supporters have already said publicly they’ll withhold their own support for Scalise, though it’s unclear if Jordan’s active support for his speaker race rival could tilt the scales.
“I just voted for Jim Jordan for Speaker on a private ballot in conference, and I will be voting for Jim Jordan on the House floor. 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,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote on X.
Ohio Rep. Max Miller and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert both told reporters after the closed-door vote Wednesday that they still planned to vote for Jordan on the floor.
Another Jordan supporter, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, said later that she couldn’t support Scalise on the floor because she was troubled by his admission that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white supremacist leaders in 2002 when he was a state representative. Scalise said in 2014 he didn’t know at the time that the group was affiliated with racists.
“Especially given what’s happening in Israel right now, I just cannot support someone who’s associated with anything that is divisive or whether it’s race or religion, I’m just a hard pass on that,” Mace said. “We’re frozen right now. We should be having this debate on the floor or having it in conference and hashing it out. And that’s not what’s happening.”
‘Aggressively pursue justice’
Still, some conservatives who backed Jordan did say they would get behind Scalise after he won the nomination on Wednesday. Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, Texas Rep. Keith Self and South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman all said after the conference voted Wednesday that they would support Scalise on the floor.
Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna earlier posted “Jim Jordan” on X. But later after meeting with Scalise, Luna said she would back the majority leader’s bid for the speaker’s gavel on the floor.
Luna said Scalise met three conditions she laid out: “defunding” the office of the special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump; issuing a subpoena to Hunter Biden, the president’s son; and bringing a vote on impeaching President Joe Biden to the floor.
“After talking to Rep. Scalise, I feel very confident that’s going to allow me to aggressively pursue justice for this country and this nation. And so I’ll be supporting him on the floor,” Luna said.
Whenever votes begin, some Republicans had a sunny view of their ability to get Scalise the gavel on the floor without too much public fighting.
Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, said it could take a couple rounds of floor votes to solidify the 217 votes needed to elect Scalise and that Republicans were prepared for that, but that he didn’t expect a drawn out series of votes on the floor.
“I think we’ve learned from the past experience as a conference,” Arrington said. “I think there were trust issues with the last speaker and some of our members from the outset, so I think it was doomed to end up like this. I think when you go 15 rounds and you have to make all these prenuptial arrangements before one takes the speaker’s chair, not always a wise idea.”
Scalise got another big boost from a GOP lawmaker that he hasn’t always seen eye to eye with. McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that he’d support Scalise’s speaker bid on the floor.
David Lerman and Mark Burnett contributed to this report.