House Republicans nominated Steve Scalise to be the next speaker on Wednesday, a week after the unprecedented ouster of Kevin McCarthy. But a handful of objections to Scalise’s nomination left House Republicans unable to move to a final floor vote, making it unclear when a new speaker might be elected.
By a vote of 113 to 99, Scalise, currently the second-ranking House Republican, defeated a challenge from congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the judiciary committee and a far-right firebrand.
Still, the result fell well below the 217-vote threshold needed to be elected speaker on the House floor, where Republicans chaos and division triggered 15 rounds of balloting before the caucus united behind McCarthy earlier this year. The timing of a potential floor vote to elect Scalise remained uncertain on Wednesday afternoon, when the House held a brief pro forma session and then went into recess.
If all 433 current House members participate in the vote, Scalise can only afford four defections within the Republican conference and still win the speakership. As of Wednesday, at least 10 House Republicans said they were not prepared to back Scalise, with several more still undecided.
“Obviously we still have work to do,” Scalise said after winning the nomination. “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.”
Emerging from their conference meeting on Wednesday afternoon, a couple of Jordan’s allies, including Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, indicated they would still support Jordan in the floor vote.
“We had a chance to unify the party behind closed doors, but the Swamp and K Street lobbyists prevented that,” Boebert said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The American people deserve a real change in leadership, not a continuation of the status quo.”
Even as his allies rallied around him, Jordan appeared ready to support Scalise on the floor. According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Jordan plans to vote for Scalise and has encouraged his colleagues to do the same. Jordan also offered to deliver the nominating speech on Scalise’s behalf, the source said.
That encouragement has not yet swayed some of Scalise’s detractors. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a hard-right Republican from Georgia, said she would not support Scalise because of concerns over his health, as the congressman is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for blood cancer.
“I will be voting for Jim Jordan on the House floor,” Greene said on X. “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.”
Some members on Tuesday had suggested they would prefer an alternative – or McCarthy. But McCarthy, who recently suggested he would be open to reclaiming the gavel, said on Tuesday that he asked his caucus not to re-nominate him for the job.
Leaving a meeting with Scalise on Wednesday, McCarthy reiterated his plans to support his former deputy. Of the Republican holdouts, McCarthy said: “Steve’s going to have to talk to them all, see what the concerns are. But I’m supporting Steve.”
Republicans’ tenuous grasp on power was on full display last week, when McCarthy became the first House speaker in US history to be ejected from office. Eight Republicans, led by the hard-right congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, joined with House Democrats to remove McCarthy as speaker.
But Gaetz said Wednesday that he was “excited” to support Scalise on the floor, telling reporters, “Long live Speaker Scalise!”
Until a new leader is chosen, the Republican congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will continue serving as the acting speaker while the House remains unable to conduct other business.
Republicans hope they can choose a speaker by the end of the week and avoid the spectacle that unfolded in January. A quick election would allow Republicans to turn their full attention to the situation in Israel, following this weekend’s attacks staged by Hamas.
On Tuesday, the Republican chair of the House foreign affairs committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, and the panel’s top Democrat, Gregory Meeks of New York, introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing support for Israel. As he entered the conference meeting on Wednesday, Scalise said the resolution would be his top priority if he ascends to the speakership.
“The first order of business under Speaker Steve Scalise is going to be bringing a strong resolution expressing support for Israel. We’ve got a very bipartisan bill, the McCaul-Meeks resolution, ready to go right away to express our support for Israel,” Scalise told reporters.
Meanwhile, Democrats once again unanimously nominated their leader, congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, during a closed-door caucus meeting on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, California congressman Pete Aguilar, the Democratic caucus chair, said Republicans’ “self-inflicted chaos” spoke volumes about their governing priorities.
“Israel, policy, friendship, alliance, strength, national security: that is what the Democratic caucus talked about this morning,” Aguilar said. “What the Republican conference is talking about are rule-changes and who’s in charge, so a dramatic difference.”