Republicans Nominate Steve Scalise to Be House Speaker
WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., narrowly won the Republican nomination to be the next speaker of the House on Wednesday, setting the stage for a floor vote that is still less than certain.
The announcement of Scalise’s victory over House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, in the internal conference vote came after House Republicans had spent most of the morning and the early afternoon behind closed doors in the Longworth Office Building across the street from the Capitol.
In the end, the vote was 113-99; now Scalise will have to secure at least 217 votes in the full chamber. Meanwhile, House Democrats have again nominated Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the same candidate they supported in January.
Though the momentum in the Republican speaker race seemed to favor Jordan initially, helping him gain an edge in endorsements, including that of former President Donald Trump, in the end it appeared that the moderate wing of the party got just enough behind Scalise to put him over the top.
After the vote Scalise, who is battling blood cancer and previously survived a grave wound during a mass shooting at a congressional baseball game practice in 2017, thanked his colleagues for their support, but said “we still have work to do.”
“We’re going to have to go … to the House floor and resolve this and then get the House open because, as I said, we have a lot of work to do, not just for the House, but for the people of this country,” he said.
Scalise also spoke of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, saying it showed “how dangerous a world it is and how things change so quickly.”
“We need to make sure we’re sending a message to people all throughout the world that the House is open and doing the people’s business, and making sure they understand we unequivocally stand with Israel,” he said.
Scalise said once the speaker’s race is definitively settled, the first order of business in the House will be passing the bipartisan resolution introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., formally asserting Congress’ support of Israel and condemning Hamas’ surprise attack that killed over 1,000, including 22 Americans.
The majority leader went on to say that as he spoke to his colleagues in recent days about his desire to be the next speaker, he was struck by their “resolve that we need to get back to work.”
“There’s a lot of business to take care of for families that are struggling across this country,” he said.
Scalise also said he plans to call on President Joe Biden to “sit down and talk about the crisis at the southern border.”
“We’ve seen millions come in over the last few years, including people on the terrorist watch list from all over the world. After what we just witnessed in Israel, we cannot have an unsecure border and it’s time we sit down and have a conversation about how to secure it.”
A floor vote of the whole House could come as soon as Thursday.
But as lawmakers left the Ways and Means conference room in the Longworth Building, running into a mass of reporters, still photographers and television cameras awaiting them in the hallway, the next vote appeared to be anything but a slam dunk for Scalise.
For one thing, it was unclear whether Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, would throw his support to Scalise, or whether he’d prefer to see at least one vote occur before he does so.
Jordan also has a number of supporters who said they still intend to vote for him, rather than Scalise, when the vote is brought to the floor.
Among these is Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who was one of eight GOP lawmakers who voted to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last week.
Mace said she believed Jordan answered every question put to him by conference members over the past two days “honestly and with energy.”
“And that is the bare minimum that the American people want and what they need,” she said.
“It’s also what the American people deserve,” Mace continued, adding, “I’m very excited about this vote tomorrow and I hope we’ll come together for the next speaker very, very quickly.”
As she spoke, a reporter asked about the top Mace was wearing, a top emblazoned with a large, red letter “A.”
“I am wearing this Scarlet Letter after the week I just had … being a woman up here and being demonized for my vote [in favor of ousting McCarthy],” she said. “I’ve been demonized for my vote and having my own voice. But I’m here to let the rest of the world know that I’m on the side of the people. I’m not on the side of the establishment. And I’m going to do the right thing every single time no matter the consequences, because I don’t answer to anybody in D.C.”
Though Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., appeared to try to avoid reporters by hastily jumping into an elevator after she left the conference meeting, once cornered there she also said she’d be “voting for Jim Jordan on the floor.”
At least one other lawmaker, Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, has also said he plans on voting for Jordan on the floor.
Others, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who filed to motion to vacate the chair that led to McCarthy’s ouster, said they would be willing to support either Scalise or Jordan.
“Long live Speaker Scalise,” Gaetz said as he hurried from the building after the vote with reporters and photographers in tow.
The situation was enough to make Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, exclaim that he didn’t know “how the hell you get to 218,” the majority needed in the 435-member House to become speaker.
Even if a vote is held on Thursday, he suggested, “It could be a very long week.”
But Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., was philosophical about the situation.
“We’ve got two really good choices,” he said.
“They both did a really good job last night,” Cole said of a candidate night held by the Republicans Tuesday evening.
“I think they’re both really respected — it’s not like these are unknown figures. Quite the opposite. So I think it will be a very competitive race,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned a minority in the party wouldn’t go along with the choice of speaker and might ultimately try to drive the winner out just as McCarthy was driven out, Cole said, “we ought to let the majority [decide] the direction we go in, and then, if people want to be part of this conference, I think they should have the decency to respect the decision on the floor and support our chosen leader.”
If there was a consensus as lawmaker after lawmaker left Wednesday’s meeting it was that they want to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing, 15 rounds of televised voting that led to McCarthy being speaker in January.
That’s one reason so much is being done behind closed doors this week.
Whatever happens Thursday, all involved acknowledged they’re under a tight deadline to work things out; the continuing resolution that is keeping the government open at the moment expires on Nov. 17.
Meanwhile, as all of this transpired, Capitol workers helped former Speaker McCarthy’s staff pack up his office. Among the items removed today were scores of boxes, furniture and a large painting of Abraham Lincoln.