House Republicans picked Rep. Steve Scalise as their nominee for speaker on Wednesday, but the Louisiana Republican lacks the votes needed to win the gavel and it remains unclear whether he will be able to win over holdouts.
Republicans are now worried that Scalise is facing grim prospects of becoming speaker as he confronts opposition within the ranks, a situation that threatens to prolong the GOP’s leadership crisis following Kevin McCarthy’s historic ouster.
Until a speaker is elected, the House remains effectively paralyzed following McCarthy’s removal, an unprecedented situation that has taken on new urgency amid Israel’s war against Hamas. Raising the stakes further, the longer it takes Republicans to elect a new speaker, the less time lawmakers will have to try to avert a government shutdown with a funding deadline looming in mid-November.
Scalise won out over Rep. Jim Jordan in a closed-door vote by the House GOP conference to pick their speaker nominee on Wednesday. The nomination was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has made a name for himself as a staunch Trump ally.
But it quickly became clear that the fight over who will be speaker would not be rapidly resolved as a number of Republicans would not commit to voting for Scalise in a floor vote.
When Republicans met behind closed doors Wednesday morning to select a speaker nominee, Scalise earned 113 votes to Jordan’s 99 – putting Scalise below the 217-vote threshold needed to win the speakership in a full vote on the House floor.
The question now is whether Scalise will be able to lock down the votes he needs, a major obstacle in his path to the gavel. House Republicans hold a narrow majority and Scalise can only afford to lose four GOP votes on the floor and still win the speakership.
McCarthy’s ouster, which was driven by a group of hardline conservatives, has intensified deep divisions within the House GOP conference and escalated tensions. That threatens to make it even more challenging for Republicans to unite behind a new speaker.
It’s not yet clear when the House will hold a floor vote to elect a new speaker. House Republicans adjourned the chamber on Wednesday without scheduling a vote.
Scalise began meeting individually with GOP members later in the day as he and his whip operation try to convince more than a dozen holdouts to back him on the floor, according to multiple GOP sources.
Jordan is also working to convince his colleagues who voted for him to join him in supporting Scalise as Republicans try to avoid another messy floor fight, a source with direct knowledge told CNN. Jordan plans to vote for Scalise on the floor and is encouraging his colleagues to do the same, the source said.
But it’s not yet clear if that will be enough to secure the needed votes.
“I’m not supporting Steve Scalise, I’ll be voting for Jim Jordan,” Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia told CNN’s Manu Raju. “Well, Jim Jordan presented a strong plan for a us, a detailed plan on how to move forward. We didn’t hear that plan from Steve Scalise. It was more vague answers.”
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Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky wrote on X, “Surprises are for little kids at birthday parties, not Congress. So, I let Scalise know in person that he doesn’t have my vote on the floor, because he has not articulated a viable plan for avoiding an omnibus” – a reference to a sweeping package of spending bills.
Later, Massie warned that Scalise has a tough fight ahead of him to secure the gavel. “I think there’s at least 20,” members ready to not vote for Scalise on the floor, he told reporters.
McCarthy said that he will support Scalise, but said he hasn’t been involved in any conversations with the holdouts.
“Steve is going to have to talk to them all, see what their concerns are, but I support Steve,” he told reporters.
Asked if he was trying to sway any holdouts, he said, “No.”
The nomination vote quickly set off a scramble to fill other spots in GOP leadership.
Oklahoma GOP Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma announced on Wednesday that he will run for the position of majority leader.
According to a spokesperson for Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, he is also running to become majority leader.
A source familiar also told CNN that House Majority Whip Tom Emmer is making calls to members to be majority leader if Scalise is elected speaker.
During the closed-door meeting where Republicans nominated Scalise as speaker, the conference also rejected an effort to raise the threshold required to select a GOP speaker nominee – a proposal that was aimed at preventing a messy public fight on the House floor.
The rules change would have raised the threshold to select a speaker nominee from a majority of the GOP conference – or 111 votes – to 217 votes, a majority of the full House, the number required to win the speaker’s gavel when the entire chamber holds its vote.
Scalise has risen through the ranks of leadership during his time in Congress. In the position of House majority leader, Scalise has served as the second-highest-ranking House Republican after McCarthy, prior to the historic vote to oust the speaker.
Scalise is a prominent figure in the House GOP conference and has long been seen as either a potential successor, or rival, to McCarthy. Before he became majority leader, Scalise served as House GOP whip, a role focused on vote counting and ensuring support for key party priorities. The majority leader, his current role, oversees the House floor and schedules legislation for votes.
The Louisiana Republican is no stranger to adversity.
A shooting in 2017 left him seriously wounded, with a grueling, monthslong recovery process. Scalise was shot by a gunman who opened fire as congressional Republicans were practicing for an annual charity baseball game.
In August, Scalise announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which he described as “a very treatable blood cancer.” In September, Scalise told reporters that in response to treatment, his cancer “has dropped dramatically.”
This story and headline have updated with additional developments.