Steve Scalise’s cancer becomes ‘the elephant in the room’ as House Republicans struggle to unify behind their speaker nominee

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise at a press conference on Capitol Hill on September 27, 2023.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise at a press conference on Capitol Hill on September 27, 2023.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

  • Rep. Steve Scalise, the GOP nominee to the next speaker of the House, has a rare blood cancer.

  • It could derail his speakership bid, with and Trump raising concerns.

  • Scalise moved to address those concerns during a closed-door meeting on Thursday.

Less than a day after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise narrowly secured his party’s nomination to be the next speaker of the House, the Louisiana Republican is moving to address concerns about his health.

“I guess it’s the elephant in the room,” said Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, who supports Scalise’s speakership bid. “And everybody wants to go around it.”

After Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said on Wednesday that she would not vote for Scalise because he has a rare blood cancer, Scalise sought to reassure his colleagues about his prognosis during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans.

“He got up and spoke, he gave us kind of an overview of where he was at in his treatment,” said Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee. “And I have confidence and trust his word, so there’s no reason for me to doubt him on that front.”

Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina, a Scalise supporter who worked as a urologist and treated cancer before coming to Congress, rose to vouch for Scalise, according to multiple lawmakers present.

“We also got some pretty good, let’s say qualified, contributional testimony from Murphy,” said Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho, who recently recovered from his own bout of cancer. “He said, ‘This is targeted, his medical regimen is one that has minimal side effects, he can do this.'”

“The way he addressed it is, if you get this contact from your constituent, you can say, ‘Look in today’s world, this is
quite treatable,'” said Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona.

Spokespeople for Scalise and Murphy did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

This isn’t the first time that Scalise has addressed the issue, saying on Fox News last week that “if the doctors didn’t sign off, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

But it comes after Greene became the first lawmaker to publicly raise the issue on Wednesday, and as the House GOP conference struggles to unify behind a candidate in the wake of last week’s ouster of Kevin McCarthy.

Several supporters of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who lost to Scalise by a 113-99 margin during a closed-door vote on Thursday, have so far refused to support Scalise, likely in a bid to secure concessions and reassurances.

Further complicating matters, former President Trump — who had endorsed Jordan —  questioned whether Scalise’s cancer diagnosis would prevent him doing the job during an interview on Fox News on Thursday.

“I want Steve to get well, I just don’t know how you can do the job when you have — that’s a serious problem,” said Trump. “It’s like a draining of strength. And we need tremendous strength both inside and out.”

Scalise was diagnosed in August with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that’s treatable but not curable, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. He also survived an assassination attempt at a baseball practice in 2017, a fact that lawmakers tout in speaking to his ability to lead.

“Look, this is a guy who was shot and came back,” said Schweikert. “We all have to face, you know, life.”

But other Republicans — including both Scalise supporters and those who continue to withhold their support for the Louisiana Republican — told Insider that his cancer remains a legitimate concern, even if it’s not a deciding factor for them.

“I mean, the only concern that I have is really more health-related than anything,” said Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, who initially supported Jordan but said he would now support Scalise. “First and foremost, I want him to get well. I want him to beat cancer. So, as long as this endeavor isn’t exacerbating that…. that’s my first concern for him, is that he gets healthy.”

“I will admit it’s a concern,” said Rep. Keith Self of Texas, who’s among the Republicans who have yet to support Scalise. “I mean, everybody ought to be thinking about it, but it’s not a major factor [for me].”

“I think many members are concerned about that,” said Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, another Scalise holdout. “I’ve heard them express the opinion that you just can’t take on something more stressful if you’re going through chemo.”

“I do think it’s fair game,” said Fulcher, who’s supporting Scalise. “And I think that it should be discussed and disclosed, just like it was in there.”

Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, said he even prayed for Scalise during a recent party meeting after a friend sent him a Bible verse from the Epistle of James pertaining to healing from illness.

“I was getting more and more ticked off at the conference. I was going to rail on leadership that day,” said Burchett. “But then I read that and I thought, ‘No.’ So that’s what I did.”

Burchett also suggested that Greene was getting more attention for her remark about Scalise’s cancer because she’s a woman.

“She lets you know what she thinks,” said Burchett. “And probably if she was the guy and said it, nobody would have thought nothing of it.”


Read the original article on Business Insider

Leave a Comment