Oct 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP tensions reach a boiling point as Steve Scalise struggles

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise's (R-La.) difficult path to clinching the speaker’s gavel is throwing the House GOP conference into chaos.

Why it matters: GOP lawmakers, frustrated by an already weeklong speaker vacancy that has halted action on the House floor, are desperate to get back to work.

Driving the news: Republicans huddled Thursday afternoon for a contentious closed-door discussion in which Scalise tried to cobble together the support he needs to win — but came no closer to a resolution.

  • Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) said there was "a lot of raw emotion" at the meeting, comparing it to a "marriage counseling session."
  • "We may be here all day and all night," Alford said. "There's one guy who stood up and said 'We cannot go home,' and I'm for that."
  • Several members grumbled that the meeting was doing little to pave the way for Scalise — or anybody else — to become speaker: "This is an exhausting, unproductive exercise," one House Republican told Axios.

The backdrop: The GOP conference voted 113-99 to nominate Scalise for speaker on Wednesday after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) removal last week.

  • But some Republicans came out of the closed-door meeting saying they still support Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), with others later announcing they will not back Scalise.
  • With Republicans holding a narrow House majority, Scalise can only afford to lose about four GOP votes on the floor.
  • "I don't know who can get there," said Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.). "I don't know that any person can get there right now until the emotions calm a little bit."

What they're saying: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who backed Jordan for the nomination but said she is supporting Scalise on the floor, said she is "getting frustrated with everyone being petty about their reasons" for opposing Scalise.

  • "If it's not going to be Steve Scalise, then we need to figure out who it is," Malliotakis added. "There are too many bigger things happening in the world right now ... we need to be serious about getting back to work."
  • Most Republicans who emerged from the meeting conceded that few holdouts appear to have been swayed: "Today I don't think changed much," said Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who is undecided.
  • Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said he thinks members will have to work "through the weekend" to settle on a speaker.

Zoom in: Several Republicans in the meeting said the complaints of holdouts vary wildly — but many are focused on past slights.

  • "There's obviously still some people angry about the way it went down last week with McCarthy, and there are some that aren't going to let that go," said Valadao. "There are some who disagree with Steve — just personal reasons. There's a little of everything."
  • "Some people are very disturbed about what happened with McCarthy, some people are disturbed about the process, some people who are disturbed about the rule," said McCormick.

Between the lines: Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), who represents a district President Biden won in 2020, acknowledged concerns about the impact the dysfunction will have on her re-election and her party's ability to keep the House in 2024.

By the numbers: More than two dozen Republicans have said they are either opposing Scalise or are undecided, with the ranks of holdouts growing larger on Thursday.

  • Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), who had initially planned to vote for Scalise, told reporters that former President Trump's comments about the GOP leader's health shifted her vote back to the "no" column.
  • "There's absolutely nothing [Scalise] can do, he's going to have to figure out a path to get a majority to become speaker without my vote," Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) said, calling the meeting "a waste of time."

What we're watching: Several Republicans said the best path forward is to have Scalise sit down with his dissenters, rather than having the whole GOP conference continue to meet day after day.

  • McCormick said it would be "literally a miracle" if Republicans elect a speaker by close of business on Thursday.
Go deeper