Scalise struggling to secure GOP floor votes for Speakership

Speaker-designate Steve Scalise (R-La.) is struggling to win the support he will need to be elected to the top spot on the House floor, signaling what could be a sequel to his predecessor’s fight to win the gavel in January.

Scalise scored a victory on Wednesday by defeating House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in the conference’s internal vote to become the GOP nominee for Speaker. But the tally was a slim 113-99 victory, with around a dozen votes for others or “present” — and even after Jordan swung his support to Scalise following the vote, it was unclear if his supporters would do the same.

At least seven Republicans say they plan to back someone other than Scalise; at least six others say they are undecided; and some have declined to comment on who they will stand behind — enough resistance to deny Scalise the Speakership on the House floor.

Democrats are all expected to unite behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) as their preferred Speaker, just as they did in lockstep through 15 ballots in January. That means Scalise, just like deposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), can only afford a handful of Republican defections.

But a second floor fight for the Speakership — a sequel to McCarthy’s marathon battle in January — would come with a dangerous backdrop: a war in Israel and a November government funding deadline, both of which loom over the divided GOP conference.

Members leaving the GOP nominating meeting were told the House could start a floor vote as soon as 3 p.m. on Wednesday, just hours after Republicans narrowly selected Scalise. But with the apparent opposition, the House went into recess — and holdouts against Scalise shuffled in and out of the Speaker’s suite to meet with him.

The House is set to reconvene at noon on Thursday, but it is not clear whether it will then move to a floor vote for Speaker.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) said he plans to vote for McCarthy for Speaker on the House floor. Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Bob Good (Va.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Max Miller (Ohio), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Lloyd Smucker (Pa.) are among those who have said they plan to vote for Jordan.

It’s also not clear how many more of the 99 lawmakers who voted for Jordan behind closed doors will refuse to back Scalise on the floor — and how long they would be willing to prevent the House from returning to normal operations.

Jordan, meanwhile, is supporting Scalise and is encouraging his colleagues to do the same, according to a source with direct knowledge. Jordan did not immediately endorse Scalise — after the vote in the conference meeting or when pressed by reporters — but a source said he later offered to make a floor speech nominating Scalise for Speaker.

“We need a Speaker and Steve is the guy for that,” he told reporters.

Those opposing Scalise cite a variety of reasons.

Greene said she is concerned about Scalise’s health following his blood cancer diagnosis (Scalise has said his doctors cleared him to seek the position). Others have said they want a departure from the “status quo.” 

And some are mad about the successful effort to kill a proposed rule change that would have temporarily raised the threshold to nominate a GOP Speaker candidate from a majority of the conference to 217 members — the number of votes needed to win on the House floor.

The rule change was meant to avoid a prolonged Speaker fight from playing out in public on the House floor, as it did over four days and 15 ballots in January. But a majority of House GOP lawmakers voted to kill the proposal Wednesday morning, laying the foundation for another public battle over the top lawmaker in the chamber.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who led that effort to change the rules, said that people who had supported the 217 threshold suddenly flipped after getting pressure from K Street and beyond — and suspected that the whip operation against the amendment came from Scalise’s camp. A letter Roy led in support of a rule change had more than 100 signatories, but fewer than that voted against tabling the rule.

“It was very old school. It was very swamp. It was very old guard saying, ‘You guys, this is how we do things here,’” Roy said after leaving a meeting with Scalise. “And you know what, I don’t react very kindly to that this-is-how-we-do-things-here approach.”

Supporters of Jordan, and Jordan himself, had supported the rule change, while Scalise backers were publicly opposed to it. Had it been adopted, and if members withheld support for Scalise, there was a chance Jordan may have won out on a second round of voting.

Votes by delegates and resident commissioners have also emerged as an issue that is causing resistance to Scalise.

Scalise got 113 votes on Wednesday — just barely more than half of the 224 members of the House GOP, including those from U.S. territories who can vote in conference but not on the House floor.

But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio), while explaining on CNN that he is undecided about Scalise, said that Scalise had 110 votes “that he can take to the House floor” — which would amount to less than half of the 211 GOP members eligible to vote in the chamber. 

Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer González, who represents the territory in Congress, said she voted for Scalise. The office of Del. James Moylan (R-Guam) said he is keeping his vote anonymous.

In a sign that the fight could could get nasty, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said she cannot back the Louisiana Republican because of a 2002 speech he delivered to a white supremacist group more than two decades ago — which he apologized for in 2014.

“I’ve been very vocal about this over the last couple of days: I personally cannot, in good conscience, vote for someone who attended a white supremacist conference and compared himself to David Duke,” Mace said on CNN. 

Following her comments, images resurfaced on social media of Mace touting Scalise’s endorsement in 2020. 

At least one hardline conservative member, though, appeared to be swayed after meeting with Scalise.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), who on Monday said she was backing Jordan, told reporters on Wednesday — after meeting with Scalise — that she would vote for him on the floor. She said she is confident he would support measures to defund special counsel Jack Smith, who is probing former President Trump; to bring a vote on impeaching President Biden; and to subpoena Hunter Biden.

Though Scalise has yet to lock up the support needed for Speaker, many members are operating on the assumption that he will — and jockeying for his current position. 

Three candidates are running for majority leader to replace Scalise: Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) announced a run on Wednesday; a spokesman for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) confirmed he is also seeking the spot; and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said last week that he was looking at moving up to Majority Leader if Scalise got the Speaker nomination.

If Emmer moves up to Majority Leader, Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) is expected to seek House Majority Whip.

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) made a public warning to those announcing bids for other positions. 

“Now is NOT the time to be campaigning for other leadership positions, House Republicans must work to unite to elect the Speaker – and that is my focus as Conference Chair at this important time,” Stefanik said in a social media post.

McCarthy, meanwhile, had little to say about how Scalise should handle the holdouts – many of whom contributed to his own ouster and months of headaches. 

“Steve’s going to have to talk to them all, see what the concerns are,” McCarthy said. “But I’m supporting Steve.” 

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