Race for U.S. House speaker moves toward a vote as Scalise, Jordan make their pitches
Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, who is running to become speaker of the U.S. House, talks with reporters on Tuesday, Oct. 10 following a closed-door candidate forum. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans gathered behind closed doors for several hours Tuesday evening to debate who the party should elect as the next speaker amid divided views about the path forward.
The two-hour forum featured House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan making their cases and answering questions from their colleagues. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who seemed open to running again earlier this week, left the meeting after a few minutes, saying he’d asked his supporters not to nominate him.
The GOP lawmaker who secures the gavel will need to walk a tightrope, working with a Democratic Senate and President Joe Biden on must-pass legislation, while vilifying them on the campaign trail to build the party’s majority during the 2024 elections.
The next speaker will not only need to fundraise substantial sums of money and protect vulnerable centrist Republicans from taking votes that could lead to lost seats, but also ensure that far-right conservative lawmakers are on board with the agenda.
House GOP lawmakers are expected to convene Wednesday morning to begin privately voting for their nominee, though a floor vote to actually elect a speaker hasn’t been scheduled.
House Republican rules say whoever gets a simple majority of the vote will be the party’s candidate for speaker when a floor vote is held. Several members, however, are trying to change that to prevent a floor vote from being scheduled until one lawmaker secures the support needed to win.
With 221 House Republicans, about 111 GOP lawmakers are needed to become the speaker nominee in the conference vote behind closed doors, though that person would need about 217 votes on the floor.
Scalise told reporters after the meeting that he and his supporters have been building a “great coalition amongst my colleagues from every swath of the conference.”
“What people have really liked about my approach is that I’ve been a unifier but somebody who’s built coalitions throughout my entire career, and we’ve delivered big wins,” Scalise said. “And people want to see us get back on track. We need a Congress that’s working tomorrow.”
Scalise said his first legislative item if elected speaker would be a resolution expressing “strong” support for Israel.
Uncertainty over who can get enough votes
Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said following the meeting that she is undecided on whether she would vote for Jordan or Scalise.
She said she was glad that both men committed to continuing the impeachment inquiry into Biden and whether he benefited from his son’s business dealings overseas. House Republicans have spent the past year investigating Hunter Biden, but those hearings have not shown a direct link that the president financially benefited.
Greene added that she’s skeptical that Jordan or Scalise can get enough votes to be nominated for speaker.
“I think if it comes out that neither one of them can get there, then yes, we’re going to have to produce another candidate that can get there,” she said.
Florida Rep. Kat Cammack, who remained undecided, told reporters that she wasn’t sure if Republicans would be able to elect a speaker before the end of the week.
“I just don’t think that there is a candidate at this point in time who has the lion’s share of support that they’re going to need to get across the finish line,” Cammack said.
The candidates for speaker, she said, need to detail “a clear-cut strategy of how we are going to accomplish the things that the American people sent us here to do.”
That to-do list includes passing all 12 government funding bills and addressing the national debt by looking at mandatory programs, a category of government spending that includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, she said.
Cammack said she wasn’t looking for the candidate that could work with the Democratic Senate amid divided government, but someone who would “jam the Senate.”
“We need someone who is going to put forward a strategy to jam the Senate. That has been a number one complaint not just in this Congress, but in previous congresses,” Cammack said. “Because at the end of the day, if Republicans are doing nothing more than chasing headlines, we’re doing nothing at all.”
Avoiding a reprise of last speaker election
Some GOP lawmakers have indicated they want to avoid a repeat of January when McCarthy was unable to secure the votes needed to become speaker until the 15th ballot. They’ve argued that Republicans shouldn’t put a speaker nominee up for a floor vote until they’re sure that person can get the votes needed amid the party’s razor-thin majority.
The saga included four days of failed floor votes and several back-room, handshake deals with far-right conservative lawmakers that unfurled last week when eight Republicans and Democrats voted to remove him as speaker.
Until Tuesday, McCarthy had been coy about whether he’d actively campaign to hold the title of speaker once again, saying he would leave that up to the House Republican Conference.
Scalise, of Louisiana, and Jordan, of Ohio, had, however, officially launched campaigns for speaker.
If those two candidates are the only two nominated during Wednesday’s closed-door vote among House Republicans, whoever gets a simple majority would become the party’s nominee for speaker.
But, if three or more candidates are nominated, and none of those candidates get a majority during the first ballot, the candidate with the least votes would be removed from the ballot and another round of voting would begin.
North Carolina’s Patrick McHenry will likely remain as speaker pro tempore until House Republicans elect a new speaker on the floor. The role was one McCarthy handpicked him for under a procedure established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to ensure continuity of government.
McCarthy seemed to endorse the idea that the speaker pro tem has broader authority than McHenry has used this far, speaking to reporters after briefly attending the meeting.
“You want the continuity of government. It should be no question,” McCarthy said. “Patrick McHenry should be able to bang the gavel and move legislation while we (make) a decision of who’s speaker. It was the whole concept after 9/11 for continuity of government if you didn’t have a speaker. That’s why we created that. That’s why I named him and he should be able to do the job.”
The vote for a new speaker comes ahead of a Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government, where until a speaker is selected, there are questions as to how the House can proceed with its legislative business.
Another sticking point, as House Republicans coalesce with their members to elect a new speaker, is the White House is planning to ask Congress for supplemental aid to help Ukraine and Israel, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said during a Tuesday White House briefing.
It’s unclear if that request will be together or each as a separate package, but with the recent war in Israel, lawmakers have pushed for congressional action.
‘Both like my brothers’
Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana said after the meeting that Jordan and Scalise were “two good candidates” and that he mostly listened to their pitches and didn’t have any questions for Scalise and Jordan.
“I know them both very, very well, so I know how they think and could predict most of their answers,” Johnson said. “They’re both like my brothers and I’ve decided that I’m gonna vote for a former chairman of the (Republican Study Committee).”
Both Scalise and Jordan have served as the chair for the RSC.
Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie told reporters that he plans to vote for Jordan because he is supportive of a long-term continuing resolution until late spring, which would kick-start a provision from the debt ceiling deal to automatically cut discretionary federal spending by 1%.
“I didn’t hear Steve Scalise articulate a clear plan for avoiding a shutdown,” Massie said. “Steve said, let’s do the 12 (appropriation bills) and fight the Senate.”
That provision won’t go in effect if Congress can pass its appropriation bills by April 30.
Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann told reporters after the meeting that Scalise and Jordan both struck a positive tone and that each committed to supporting the other, if they didn’t win.
“Both Mr. Scalise and Jim Jordan were perfect gentlemen. There was no contention,” Fleischmann said. “They agreed on most of the issues and where there were disagreements it was very respectful and positive.”
Both Scalise and Jordan, he said, expressed support for moving all dozen of the annual government spending bills to the House floor to avoid a massive, year-end omnibus funding package.
If Scalise were to win, Fleischmann said, current whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota would likely become majority leader, since he’s the only announced candidate for that slot. Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler would then become whip.
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