Scalise Exits Speaker’s Race, Leaving Conference Scrambling After ‘Airing of Grievances’
WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., withdrew from the race to be the next speaker of the House Thursday night, a stunning development that appears to have left his Republican conference in a state of absolute dysfunction.
Scalise had won the party’s nomination for speaker during a lengthy closed-door meeting in the Longworth House Office building on Wednesday, overcoming Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the House Judiciary chair, by a whisker-thin margin of 113-99 in a secret ballot.
On Thursday, the action moved to a large conference room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, where members of the conference gathered for what many later described as “an airing of complaints” that, in theory, was intended to bring the group closer together and closer to electing Scalise leader.
But after five hours and a lunch of Chick-fil-A, it was clear from members who emerged from the room that the plan hadn’t worked at all.
“I think everything is at a gridlock,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., as she was surrounded by a throng of reporters in the hallway outside the meeting.
“It’s a waste of time … going in there behind closed doors,” she said. “We are elected by the people. We represent the people. We need to be on the House floor,” she said. “We can fight this out on the House floor, but I think we need to start voting.”
Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. suggested Scalise was actually losing ground, not only failing to soften the resistance of the “eight hard noes” who ardently opposed his candidacy, but also alienating as many as “25 or 30” supporters who were growing more disillusioned by the hour.
“Personally, I was disappointed we didn’t stay [Wednesday] and bring this to a vote,” said Norman, who had promised Scalise he’d vote for him in the first round, but would keep his options open if the selection of speaker went past that.
Norman also suggested that he and other members had been disappointed by what they felt was Scalise’s lack of an articulated vision.
“My concern is, and has long been, are you going to cure the cancer of this country, and by that I mean, are you going to insist on regular order,” he said. “I mean, it’s been 24 years since we’ve gotten away from that, and what have we done in that time?
“We’ve spent the taxpayers’ money and we’ve passed messaging bills … And that’s been the frustration for me,” Norman said.
For others, the disdain for Scalise was personal. Among those in this category was Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who has been indicted on 23 federal charges, some coming as recently as this past week.
Encountered outside the Capitol just before the day’s first airing of grievances began, Santos said he would support “anyone but Scalise.”
Asked why, Santos said, “I’ve spent 10 months in this building. He’s supposed to be the majority leader and he has not once reached out to me.”
Walking briskly toward the Capitol, with an aide at his side, Santos said, “I’ve reached out [to Scalise] a couple of times; never got a call back, never got a meeting.
“That’s not leadership,” he said. “We need somebody in leadership who acknowledges all members of the conference. That’s how it should work.”
Hours later, in the glow of television cameras, Scalise said, “I just shared with my colleagues that I was withdrawing my name as a candidate for speaker-designee.”
“It’s been quite a journey, and there is still a long way to go,” he said.
Later, he added, “There are still some people that have their own agendas, and I was very clear: we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs.
“There are some folks that really need to look in the mirror over the next couple of days and decide: are we going to get it back on track? Or are they going to try to pursue their own agenda? You can’t do both,” Scalise said.
“This country is counting on us to come back together. This House of Representatives needs a speaker, and we need to open up the House again,” he said.
All of this, of course, began with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’s extraordinary decision to file a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair in the wake of the House passing a stop-gap spending bill intended to keep the government open and lawmakers working on fiscal year 2024 spending bills that should have been done months ago.
After a series of attempts to pass a Republican-only continuing resolution that would pass muster with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy in the end threw in his lot with the chamber’s Democrats to get a bill through, a move that effectively touched off a full scale rebellion by a small but powerful faction in the chamber.
With a margin of only four votes to spare to save his speakership, McCarthy lost eight.
Many of the eight have since rallied around Jim Jordan’s candidacy, and while McCarthy has not formally endorsed a successor, a number of his supporters have said they would also back Jordan.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., an initial proponent of removing McCarthy, ultimately voted against the motion to remove him.
On Thursday he told reporters, “I think it’s beneficial to get through the 12 stages of grief or whatever it is [behind closed doors]” and based on what he’d heard, he thought Jordan was emerging with some clear advantages.
“I mean, I heard one person at one point saying, ‘Well, Jordan didn’t go to my district for me when I asked.’ But that’s a much different category of thing from ‘Well, does he have a plan?’
“I think the advantage Jordan has in the room right now is he does have a plan, some of which I disagree with; personally I think the plan we came up with in January was better, but it didn’t work … so maybe it’s time to try something new.”
Bishop said regardless of where one lands philosophically on all these matters, the bottom line is who can reach the magic number — 217 votes — needed to secure the speakership.
“I don’t have a closed mind on many things,” he said. “That’s why I think that once it’s clear Steve Scalise can’t get there, you have to go back and give a further look to Jordan. I mean, Jim has almost exactly the same amount of support.
“So then the question needs to be, ‘Is this something I can get comfortable with? And is this the person that can get to 217?’ And as I look around the landscape, Jim Jordan appears to be the only one that’s close.”
For his part, Jordan was playing things close to the vest Thursday night, telling reporters after Scalise’s announcement that he thought his colleague was “a great American.”
But he pointedly declined to say whether he was now going to make another run for the speakership, as is widely expected.
“Any type of announcement about what may or may not happen is best done tomorrow,” he said.
(In fact, Jordan did announce his intention to run again for speaker Friday morning.)
Another possible candidate is Acting Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who told reporters, “It’s up to the will of the conference,” a position not unlike that of McCarthy, who has floated the idea of his own return to the post several times in the past week.
Based on long-standing practice, the election of a House speaker requires a simple majority vote in the chamber. This does not mean, however, that an individual must receive a majority of the full membership of the House — currently 217 votes — as some members may choose to answer “present” when their name is called or not vote at all.
If no candidate receives the requisite majority of votes cast, the roll call is repeated.
According to the Congressional Research Service, no restrictions are imposed on who may receive votes in the subsequent ballots. (For instance, no candidate is eliminated based on receiving the fewest votes in the floor election, and a member’s vote is not limited to individuals who received votes in previous ballots.)
Typically, the election commences with a member from each party caucus placing in nomination the party’s candidate for speaker. Other names may also be placed in nomination on the floor.
Since 1839, the election has been by roll call vote, a quorum being present. During the election, each voting member states aloud the surname of the candidate whom he or she favors for speaker.
Members are not required to vote for one of the candidates nominated by either major party (or even for some other candidate formally nominated on the floor); they may vote for any individual.
Although the U.S. Constitution does not require the speaker to be a member of the House, all speakers have been members. However, over the years, some individuals not serving in the House have received votes.
Because of the way the rules are written some have speculated, as they did just over a week ago, during the vote on McCarthy’s fate, that House Democrats could in the end play a decisive role in ultimately choosing the next speaker.
Asked if Democrats could rally behind a moderate Republican speaker candidate on the floor, should one emerge, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., said the better question would be whether enough Republicans could be persuaded to support the Democrat’s preference, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, D-N.Y.
“Jeffries has more votes and supporters than any of the Republicans being discussed at the moment,” she said.
Scanlon went on to say that “repeated overtures” have been made to try to break the impasse on the Republican side of the aisle, but to no avail.
“We need to get the government up and running. There needs to be compromise on Capitol Hill. That’s what the American people want, but what we’ve seen, every step of the way, is the Republican conference moving further to the extremes.”
Asked when she thought a new speaker would be selected, Scanlon said, “I’m afraid I have no idea.
“I’m just waiting for the white puffs of smoke,” she said, gesturing toward the roof of the Capitol and referencing how the Vatican signals a new pope has been chosen.
Later, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., threw cold water on the idea of Democrats playing a role in selecting the next speaker.
“Let me be clear about this: We are not going to the Democrats for votes. That will not happen,” he said.
“I’m still trying to envision a world where there is a Democrat who does not vote for Hakeem Jeffries for speaker; that would create issues for them in their own conference,” he said.
Rep. Gregory Murphy, R-N.C., also said it was unlikely Democrats would try to break the GOP impasse by crossing the aisle and voting for a Republican speaker.
“A few might choose to take a walk or something and not be present to vote, but in this environment, I don’t see it happening … because they’d be crucified back home,” he said.
Standing on the steps of the Capitol, with a radiant fall sun warming the marble while the heated deliberations continued inside, Murphy attempted to put the chaotic goings on around him in perspective.
“You know, it’s funny. I’ve always compared Republicans to Democrats and to me it always seemed our greatest asset, as Republicans, was our individualism. But it’s also one of our biggest challenges,” he said.
“The Democrats, by comparison, while they may have some differences, at the end of the day, they always toe the line together. So in that aspect, they have an advantage over us,” Murphy said.
“It’s an extraordinary situation,” the congressman said of the moment at hand. “It’s this rare instance where the minority controls the majority … and it’s because we hold such a slim margin in the House. If we had a 30-seat majority, none of this would be happening.’
Asked what he thought would happen in the coming days, Murphy smiled.
“You know what’s going to happen, the sun is still going to rise tomorrow,” he said.
“Listen, we’ll figure it out somehow. Thank God, we’re not in Israel or some of the other places enduring incredible hardships at the moment. What’s playing out here is just another aspect of the human condition,” he continued.
“And some people — how do I put this — say crazy things so that they can get on the news. And that’s helped cause some of the dysfunction,” he said.
“You know, I think there are a lot of people, on both sides, that have never played a team sport, and I think that’s a big part of the problem here,” Murphy said, adding, “We all run for office as individuals, but what people have got to realize is that once you are in office, in Congress, politics is a team sport.”