WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Scalise on Wednesday to be the next House speaker and will now try to unite to elect the conservative in a floor vote after ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the job.
In private balloting at the Capitol, House Republicans pushed aside Rep. Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chairman, in favor of Scalise, the current majority leader, lawmakers said. The Louisiana lawmaker is seen as a hero to some after surviving a mass shooting on lawmakers at a congressional baseball game practice in 2017. He is now battling blood cancer.
Republicans who have been stalemated after McCarthy’s historic removal last week will seek to assemble their narrow House majority around Scalise in what is certain to be a close vote of the full House. Democrats are set to oppose the Republican nominee.
A floor vote of the whole House could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t know how the hell you get to 218,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, referring to the majority vote typically needed in the 435-member House to become speaker. “It could be a long week.”
It’s an extraordinary moment of political chaos that has brought the House to a standstill at a time of uncertainty at home and crisis abroad, just 10 months after Republicans swept to power. Aspiring to operate as a team and run government more like a business, the GOP majority has drifted far from that goal with the unprecedented ouster of a speaker.
Americans are watching. One-quarter of Republicans say they approve of the decision by a small group of Republicans to remove McCarthy as speaker. Three in 10 Republicans believe it was a mistake, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The hard-right coalition of lawmakers that ousted McCarthy, R-Calif., has shown what an oversize role a few lawmakers can have in choosing his successor.
“I am not thrilled with either choice right now,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who voted to oust McCarthy.
It’s unclear whether Scalise can amass the votes that would be needed from almost all Republicans to overcome the Democratic opposition. Usually, the majority needed would be 218 votes, but there are currently two vacant seats, dropping the threshold to 217.
Many Republicans want to prevent the spectacle of a messy House floor fight like the grueling January brawl when McCarthy became speaker.
“People are not comfortable going to the floor with a simple majority and then having C-SPAN and the rest of the world watch as we have this fight,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla. “We want to have this family fight behind closed doors.”
Some have proposed a rules change that Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the interim speaker pro tempore, is considering to ensure a majority vote before the nominee is presented for a full floor vote.
McCarthy himself appeared to agree with a consensus approach. “They shouldn’t come out of there until they decide that they have enough votes for whoever they bring to the floor,” McCarthy said.
But short of a rules change, Republican lawmakers would be expected to agree to a majority-wins process.
Neither Scalise nor Jordan was seen as the heir apparent to McCarthy, who was removed in a push by the far-right flank after the speaker led Congress to approve legislation that averted a government shutdown.
Jordan is known for his close alliance with Donald Trump, particularly when the then-president was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump backed Jordan’s bid for the gavel.
Scalise and Jordan presented similar views at a GOP candidate forum on Tuesday about cutting spending and securing the southern border with Mexico, top Republican priorities.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who engineered McCarthy’s ouster, said they would be willing to support either Scalise or Jordan.
For now, McHenry is effectively in charge. He has shown little interest in expanding his power beyond the role he was assigned — an interim leader tasked with ensuring the election of the next speaker.
The role was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ensure the continuity of government. McHenry’s name was at the top of a list submitted by McCarthy when he became speaker in January.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.