On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers selected Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) as their preferred choice for the next speaker of the House of Representatives — but Scalise received the endorsement under very narrow terms, meaning that he likely won’t be able to win the speakership if it were immediately put to a vote.
Any candidate for speaker must obtain a majority vote in the chamber in order to assume the role. Because there are currently two vacancies in the House of Representatives, Scalise must secure 217 votes in order to get the job.
Republicans currently have 222 seats in the chamber, which means Scalise can only afford to lose four votes from within his conference, assuming that every Democrat in the House votes against him.
The GOP conference vote took place on Wednesday afternoon. Scalise, who is currently the House Majority Leader, faced off against Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). While Scalise obtained a majority of votes within his own party, the count was closer than usual, with him winning by a margin of 113-99 — or only by roughly 53 percent of his conference’s vote.
It’s likely that some of the votes against Scalise will switch over to him, as some Republicans viewed their pick during that meeting as a preference, and plan to support the eventual winner no matter what. Jordan has said that he will give a speech in support of Scalise when the full House convenes a vote. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who spearheaded demands to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California), has also indicated that he is backing Scalise’s candidacy.
But the drama in the House continues to beleaguer Republicans, as the official speakership vote (which had been planned to take place just after the conference selection) was scrapped indefinitely when it became clear that Scalise didn’t yet have the votes to win. Republicans are likely hoping to avoid an embarrassing repeat of what happened earlier this year, when it took 15 ballots across multiple days for McCarthy to win the role.
Scalise seems to recognize the precarity of his current position — despite winning a majority of votes from his own conference, he did not make any media appearances following his win, and chose not to give a speech afterward.
Several Republicans have indicated that they will not back Scalise. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) has said that she would vote for Jordan instead, citing Scalise’s recent cancer diagnosis. Others, like Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Florida), have indicated that they are still upset about McCarthy’s removal, and plan to vote for the former speaker during at least the first round of voting.
Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pennsylvania) said that it was foolish to back Scalise’s candidacy, citing the fact that Scalise was part of the same leadership team as McCarthy. “The House GOP Conference is broken. So we oust Kevin McCarthy and all other leaders are rewarded with promotions?” Smucker said on social media. “How does that make sense or change anything?”
Others pointed out Scalise’s sordid history, including the fact that he once reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” and attended a white supremacist conference that was hosted by the former head of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I personally cannot, in good conscience, vote for someone who attended a white supremacist conference and compared himself to David Duke,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina) said.
Moderate Republicans are also turned off by Scalise over his votes against certifying the 2020 presidential election on January 6, 2021, and his refusal since then to acknowledge that the race wasn’t stolen.
Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-New York) has said that, due to no direct contact from Scalise after the conference vote on Wednesday, he would be voting for “ANYONE but Scalise.”
“Come hell or high water I won’t change my mind,” Santos added.
At least a dozen Republicans — and perhaps more who haven’t vocalized their position — have indicated that they won’t vote for Scalise for speaker of the House, which is three times greater than the number he can afford to lose if he wants to become speaker.
It’s currently unclear when a vote to choose the next speaker will take place. Democrats in the chamber have said that they expect only an hour’s heads-up before a vote, which the GOP conference can call at any time.
Other lawmakers have noted that a vote may not happen even by the end of this week. “I don’t think it’s gonna happen in a day. I think it’s gonna be less than a week or two,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) said.
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