Steve Scalise withdraws from speaker election, throwing House GOP into further chaos

WASHINGTON — The House fell into further chaos Thursday night after House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., withdrew from the speaker’s race despite being formally nominated by the House Republican conference, underscoring the deep divisions that have consumed GOP lawmakers.

Scalise’s withdrawal comes after the historic ouster of the chamber’s former speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was removed from his post by just eight GOP lawmakers in a vote last week. Scalise, who served as House Majority Leader, the No. 2 ranking House Republican, was largely expected to launch a speakership bid following McCarthy’s removal.

“It’s been quite a journey and there’s still a long way to go. I just shared with my colleagues that I’m withdrawing my name,” Scalise told reporters exiting a closed-door conference meeting. “Our conference still has to come together and is not there.”

Scalise, addressing the infighting that has roiled House Republicans, accused conservative holdouts in the speaker’s race of having their own “agenda.”

“There are still some people that have their own agendas and I was very clear, we have to put our own agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs,” Scalise said. “Clearly not everybody is there, there are still schisms that need to be resolved.”

Uncertainty surrounded Scalise’s bid for speaker, even after he was formally nominated by his fellow lawmakers on Wednesday, given the deep fractures that run through the House Republican conference. Some GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., expressed concerns over Scalise’s health considering he is currently battling blood cancer.

Scalise’s prompt withdrawal after just one day of being nominated reflects the arduous path any prospective speaker has ahead of them to lead the lower chamber where Republicans control the House by just four votes. Since January, every GOP lawmaker has been given an outsized amount of power over any decision in Congress, including the current speaker’s race which has no clear resolution in sight.

Without a speaker, the House is paralyzed, unable to take any legislative action, including foreign aid as a war between Israeli and Palestinian militants raged in the middle east.

The path forward for House Republicans to elect a new speaker is unclear considering GOP lawmakers seemingly can not coalesce behind a single possible leader.

Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was Scalise’s main rival in the speaker’s race but after he lost an internal conference vote to be nominated, the Ohio Republican fell behind Scalise and attempted to rally support for the majority leader. It is already uncertain if Jordan will seek the nomination again but even more uncertain if he can even unite a deeply fractured House GOP conference behind him.

Despite the gridlock, a sense of urgency has befallen House Republicans to crown a new speaker for the lower chamber to take legislative action again with a looming government shutdown and a key U.S. ally in Israel fighting a rapidly growing war against Hamas militants.

But it’s safe to say no one knows what happens now. A number of Republicans quickly condemned the chaos over the speakership, saying it does nothing good for the party or country.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a president candidate, called the House Republicans “the gang that can’t shoot straight.” On the X media site, Christie said, “we have big issues in this country and across the world. Our country and our party need a House Speaker. It’s time for them to make a decision and move forward.”

Pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked with McCarthy over the years said that “There is no precedent. There is no direction. There is no leadership. And most importantly, no one is willing to put country over party or politics.”

The House has been frozen in place since earlier this month, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced a motion to vacate that would remove McCarthy from his position as speaker.

The move came amid growing tensions between McCarthy and several Republican ultra-conservative lawmakers over key fights concerning the debt ceiling and government shutdown.

Gaetz also cited several reasons for why McCarthy should be ousted, such as not holding votes on issues like term limits for lawmakers or releasing the full security tapes from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

208 Democrats and eight Republicans voted to remove McCarthy. The list of eight includes Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana.

Gaetz told reporters after the vote that “it’s the benefit of this country that we have a better speaker of the House than Kevin McCarthy.”

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, was chosen to be acting House speaker from a succession list that McCarthy had provided in January.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., is seen on Capitol Hill as House Republicans have decided to nominate Scalise for Speaker of the House on Oct. 11, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Steve Scalise withdraws from speaker election; House GOP in chaos

Leave a Comment