‘We’re in Disarray’: House Speaker Race Wide Open after Scalise Withdraws
House Republicans acknowledge “a lot of conflict” between its factions has driven the party into “disarray,” as the leading candidate for Speaker of the House withdrew his candidacy on Thursday.
“It wasn’t going to happen today. It wasn’t going to happen tomorrow. It needs to happen soon, but I’ve withdrawn my name,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), as he bowed out of the speaker’s race.
Scalise had beaten Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) 113-99 to win the nomination of the House Republican Conference for speaker. But a candidate needs 217 votes to be elected by the full chamber. Hours of meetings with fellow Republicans reportedly caused him to shed more votes needed to secure the gavel.
“Quite frankly, we did not make a lot of progress in that meeting,” Rep. Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas) told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” Thursday afternoon, hours before Scalise’s withdrawal. “There’s a lot of conflict. There’s a lot of built-up emotion. There’s a lot of division within our conference.”
The leadership post would have been the next promotion for Scalise, a former House Study Committee chairman who served as Republican Whip between 2014 and his election as House Majority Leader last November. His departure leaves the House GOP further away from settling on a candidate.
“We’re sort of in disarray, quite honestly,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) told Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Wednesday. “Where do we go forward?”
Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, first declared his candidacy for speaker after seven conservative Republicans ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from the position, signaling a shift to the Right for the chamber. Both Jordan and Scalise have regularly earned a perfect 100% on the FRC Action scorecard (although, in the first session of the last Congress, Scalise slipped to 96%). Both men earned an 82% rating from Heritage Action. Jordan won an A+ rating from SBA Pro-life America, while Scalise scored an A. Jordan significantly outpointed Scalise only on his lifetime score on the Freedom Index, which rates congressmen based on their fidelity to the Constitution (82% vs. 67%).
The surging “populist movement in the country” has “certainly spilled over into the House of Representatives, the people’s House,” said Hern.
Unfortunately, “the timing of what happened last week could not have been worse,” said Perkins. “Given the gravity of the situation globally, it’s good to move forward.”
With Democrats firmly in control of the White House and the Senate, conservatives see the Republican-led House as “the only bulwark in Washington against the Democrats’ agenda of limitless abortion on demand,” said SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement emailed to TWS. “It is vital to the pro-life movement that we have a strong united pro-life House fighting against Democrat extremism and casting a vision for pro-life leadership in this new era as we work to save unborn children and serve women.”
A successful speaker candidate could attempt to agree with conservative insurgents, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He could also attempt to strike a deal securing the vote of House Democrats, in exchange for acquiescing to forward key components of their agenda to the Democrat-controlled Senate. The House Democratic Caucus nominated House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who has called on “traditional Republicans” to “break permanently with MAGA extremism” and “join House Democrats to form an enlightened, bipartisan coalition.”
Most GOP members have highlighted Hamas’s attack on Israel last weekend as an international crisis demanding full congressional engagement. All the relevant players in the speaker’s race have pledged their support to Israel. “The first order of business under Speaker Steve Scalise is going to be bringing a strong resolution expressing support for Israel,” Scalise promised before suspending his bid for the position. Jordan also vowed to move an aid package for “our great friend and ally, the state of Israel” to the “front and center.” Acting Speaker pro tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) stated “if we need to act as a government” to underwrite Israel’s efforts to replenish its Iron Dome missile system, “we will.” But House rules require that McHenry, who was appointed, must win an election to the temporary position before presiding over legislative matters.
When Perkins asked if such consequential issues were creating a sense of urgency for House Republicans to end the race quickly, Moran replied, “Unfortunately, it’s not.” He hoped members will stay in D.C. through the weekend to move toward a unity candidate after the first-ever successful motion to vacate the Speaker of the House — only the second time the rule has been invoked. (The first attempt, against Joe Cannon in 1910, failed.)
Although Scalise won the largest share of Republicans, at least seven members vowed never to support him. Among them is Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), an outspoken opponent of Republican pro-life and pro-family advocacy, who erroneously claimed Scalise “attended a white supremacist conference” hosted by a group founded by David Duke called European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). All parties involved in the 2002 event, including event organizer Kenny Knight, said Scalise did not attend the EURO event; he spoke on tax policy before the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, which met in the same hotel at a different time. Duke said he “never had a relationship” with Scalise and would not vote for Scalise, “because I disagree with his policy on Israel.”
McCarthy, who came to power in January after an arduous 15-ballot marathon, briefly flirted with attempting to reclaim his old title before asking the GOP conference not to nominate him on Thursday. Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.) still supports McCarthy’s return to the speaker. “I think Kevin McCarthy has a better chance of coming back than Steve Scalise does,” former Trump acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told NewsNation’s “The Hill” Thursday night after talking with congressmen on each side of the race.
Some, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), floated former President Donald Trump as Speaker of the House. Trump dismissed such speculation before giving Jordan his “complete and total endorsement.” Greene said Scalise, who suffers from a form of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma, may lack the physical stamina to serve.
Perkins told Newsmax that he had prayed with Scalise, whom he called “a friend,” and “He’s responding well to the treatments,” said Perkins. “Steve is a fighter. He has shown that time and time again,” such as when a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter shot Scalise during a congressional baseball game in 2017.
Whoever wins the election, guarantees conservatives secured earlier this year will likely remain in place, said Hern, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. These will include “single issue appropriation bills, having open amendments,” and other reforms favored by the House Republican caucus’s rising conservative faction. But the next speaker must “actually get the appropriation bills done on time,” rather than waiting until the last minute to push through massive omnibus spending bills. These could present a “pathway to reuniting the party,” Hern said.
But several House members forecast the next speaker will repeal or amend the motion to vacate policy, which allows any individual member to trigger a vote on the institution’s top leadership post. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi also changed the rule to require a majority of a conference or caucus in 2018.
Otherwise, the next speaker should focus on assuring good order, said former Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). “A [S]peaker of the House who promises everything to everyone will inevitably fail at the job,” Amash advised his ex-colleagues. “A good speaker promises only one thing: good process. Uphold the agreed-upon rules. Allow all members to read [and] amend legislation. Keep it all transparent.” Other than that, “if we’re looking for a perfect speaker, we’re going to have to look outside of the halls of Congress,” said Moran.
Perkins told Newsmax that Hern, who withdrew his name from contention to serve as Speaker of the House, would make “a great addition to the leadership team” in some capacity. Hern said “I would” consider serving in a higher role at some point.
“But first, we’ve got to get a speaker.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.