The Republican nominee to lead the US House of Representatives struggled Thursday for enough support to win a vote of the full chamber, underlining the challenge he faces to unite the fractured party.
House Republicans picked Majority Leader Steve Scalise as their replacement for ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy in a secret ballot on Wednesday — but only by a narrow margin of 113-99 over hardline rival Jim Jordan.
With just a little over half of Republicans supporting Scalise, the party’s hopes for a moment of unity dissolved into more chaos and infighting, nine days after McCarthy’s unprecedented removal in a mutiny by right wing lawmakers.
If all members were present in the full House, Scalise would need 217 votes to prevail — but analysts say getting enough of his Republican detractors on board in time for a quick vote may be a tall order.
A second public tussle for the speakership — just nine months after McCarthy’s marathon, 15-round battle to win the gavel — could hardly have come at a worse time for the Republican-controlled lower chamber of Congress.
The leaderless House has been unable to pass any bills or approve White House requests for emergency aid, with Israel — the top US ally in the Middle East — in a war footing against Hamas militants.
Meanwhile lawmakers are staring at a looming government shutdown as they have only a month to agree on 2024 federal spending levels before the money runs out and have made no progress during the leadership crisis.
“Republicans need to rally around Steve Scalise so we can unite our team, take the field, and advance our conservative policies like reining in spending, securing the border, and supporting our ally, Israel,” House Budget Committee chairman Jodey Arrington said in a statement.
– Snubbed by Trump –
Republicans were set to meet soon after midday and Team Scalise has been working frantically to win over some of Jordan’s supporters, although it remains unclear when the nomination will move to the House floor for a vote.
A succession of Republicans have announced that they have no plans to support Scalise on the House floor, and some strategists believe the opposition from his own party may still number up to 30 lawmakers.
Former president Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate in the 2024 race for the White House, endorsed Jordan and has done nothing to swing support in Scalise’s favor.
The New Orleans native, who has spent a decade climbing the ranks of the leadership, is likely to be given a few days to win the gavel before being cast adrift in favor of a fallback option.
Scalise skeptics have voiced anger over the way he helped kill proposed reforms to the nomination process, or concern over his ability to do the job as he battles blood cancer.
Others are concerned that he cannot unite the party or are simply sore that McCarthy was ousted and their preferred replacement lost.
Allies say it is too early to count out Scalise, reasoning that the objections are all strategic or policy-related and can be overcome — and that there is none of the personal animus the party’s right wing directed at McCarthy.
On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has called for a “bipartisan governing coalition” in the House, although Republicans have given no sign that they’d ever consider it.