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Scalise working to lock down speaker votes as pessimism grows

Jordan remains a viable candidate, his backers say, as House GOP hunkers down to chart path foward

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, says he'll keep an open mind but is "not in a positive place right now" about Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise's speaker bid.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, says he'll keep an open mind but is "not in a positive place right now" about Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise's speaker bid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise was facing an uphill climb in his bid for the speaker’s gavel Thursday, a day after winning the internal GOP conference election in a race that was closer than he would have liked.

Around 20 members have publicly said they would not support Scalise on the floor after the Louisiana Republican defeated Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Wednesday on a 113-99 vote.

“This is a critical inflection point that requires resolve, patience and courage from House Republicans to reject the continuation of the Swamp’s status quo and demand the real change in leadership that American people deserve,” Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said in a statement Thursday reiterating his support for Jordan despite his loss in conference.

House Republicans gathered for a meeting at 12:15 pm. Thursday after the House opened up for a very brief session at noon and promptly gaveled back out into recess rather than begin the formal nominating process on the floor. It’s the party’s first conference meeting since electing Scalise as the speaker-designate on Wednesday.

However, pessimism about a quick selection of a new speaker was growing among the conference as the opposition to Scalise hardened.

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., cast doubt on Scalise’s ability to get to the 217 requisite votes needed to win the gavel on the floor, if all members are present and voting.

“It’s possible, it’s a big hill though,” McCarthy said Thursday morning. “He told a lot of people he was at 150, and he wasn’t there.”

McCarthy said he backs Scalise for speaker, though it’s not clear how actively he’s aiding the effort. Some sources alleged McCarthy was privately whipping against Scalise, though a McCarthy aide said he was not currently doing so.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves an all-members briefing on the attack on Israel on Wednesday before heading to a House Republican Conference meeting in the Longworth Building to nominate a speaker. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Nonetheless, Scalise allies are upset with McCarthy and his allies’ stance, as former speakers including John Boehner, R-Ohio and Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., have actively aided their conference’s leadership picks during times of transition.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., projected confidence late Wednesday night, saying Scalise had gained support “big time” throughout the day.

“He’s got a lot of votes, he’s got a lot of commitments,” Diaz-Balart said. “He’s got additional commitments that were not with him.”

Diaz-Balart acknowledged the “rumor” Thursday that behind-the-scenes efforts to tank Scalise were taking place.

“If there are folks, who are, behind the scenes, trying to derail the guy who won the election, that would be problematic for this institution, and I think for the country, and obviously for the conference,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., a Jordan supporter, said Thursday that the Ohioan is likely “closer to the magic number” of votes than Scalise is at this point. “If for some reason he can’t get there, then we’ll go into the next layer of leaders,” Ogles said. “But we should stay late, get up early, work this weekend. We should get it done.”

‘One of the swampier things’

Texas Republican Chip Roy is another Jordan supporter who’s been critical of Scalise over the past 24 hours. Roy had proposed a rule change to ensure the GOP conference nominee had enough votes to win the speaker’s job on the floor that the conference rejected, and Roy said Scalise worked against his effort.

“I think the efforts that were undertaken, the night before last and yesterday morning to kill an effort that was done in good faith across the ideology of the conference … was one of the swampier things that I’ve seen done in a while,” Roy said Thursday. “Many of us who can do our own whip count knew that the votes weren’t there [for Scalise]. So let’s figure this out. And they tried to steamroll it. And that’s not a good direction to go. So I’m not there.”

Roy said he was still open to possibly coming around to backing Scalise, as he did in January with McCarthy after holding out initially. But, Roy said, “I’m not in a positive place right now.”

With questions about the ability of both Jordan and Scalise to get the requisite votes, considerations of potential backup options are percolating.

Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C.; Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn.; Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla.; Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. and Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., are all seen as potential dark horse options.

Hern, however, has already thrown his hat in the ring for majority leader, and was seeking to boost his candidacy by dropping off McDonald’s bacon, egg and cheese “McGriddles” at GOP lawmakers’ offices on Thursday.

And then there’s McCarthy, who’s clearly still smarting from his ouster last week and maintains a base of support within the conference.

However, each could face the same challenges Scalise is facing in securing the job, and each could face opposition from various parts of the conference.

“I don’t know if there’s a single member of the GOP that can get 217 right now,” one GOP aide said Thursday morning.

If the stalemate lingers, some Republicans believe McHenry should test his powers in the speaker pro tempore role or believe that Congress could install McHenry on a temporary basis to address the looming Nov. 17 government spending deadline and pass aid to Israel as it goes to war with Hamas.

Laura Weiss and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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