Faced with entrenched opposition within his party, Majority Leader Steve Scalise is scrambling to save the House speaker’s race, which has paralyzed the House and left no way to elect a speaker.
House Republicans met behind closed doors for more than two hours Thursday, with Scalise urging critics to explain their objections to him before the meeting. After the meeting, Scalise planned to huddle in his office with his opponents and leaders of various Republican conferences.
But on Thursday, opposition to Scalise becoming the next speaker grew, with about 20 Republicans speaking out against him. Scalise needs a House majority to be elected speaker, meaning he can only lose four votes.
The gridlock has led to growing frustration as House Republicans appear no closer to uniting around a speaker candidate. Some Republicans described Thursday’s meeting as a venting session that yielded little. Many said it felt like no one could actually get the 217 votes needed.
“This is so petty and I’m tired of it,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y. “We’re all there to share our feelings, but the reality is we still need to get to 217.”
Scalise’s math problems quickly became apparent after he won the Republican conference vote to become speaker, defeating Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, 113-99. Several Jordan supporters immediately said they would not vote for Scalise on the court, and that number has surged since that day.
“I’m not a member of the Whip Team, but I can count the votes and the margin is pretty wide right now,” said Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee, one of the Republicans who said he would vote for Jordan.
After leaving Thursday’s meeting, Scalise said he would meet with smaller groups in the conference to try to address holdouts before moving to a vote.
“I’m not going to make any deals. I want to meet in front of all our members, answer every question and continue to work to unite our conference and resolve the issues that arise,” Scalise said. “I answered every question that everyone had and we will continue to go through this process as we increase our support and work to resolve this issue and get the House back to normal operations.”
Republican lawmakers were told to expect another session in the evening, and many said a vote for speaker Thursday was unlikely.
Republicans worry about Scalise’s prospects as speaker, a deadlock that threatens to prolong the party’s leadership crisis and paralyze the House, unable to advance any legislation.
Late Wednesday, conference members began weighing how to deal with the possibility of his campaign failing, with several Republican sources saying they believed they would have to consider a new candidate who has not yet run for the speakership.
Scalise or any other Republican candidate would need 217 votes to win the House speakership, a majority in the House of Representatives, which currently has two vacancies. That means Scalise can only afford to lose four Republicans if every member votes. Democrats are expected to unanimously support New York House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who is expected to support Scalise, sharply criticized members, saying they would not vote for Scalise.
“I think they should all resign their seats in Congress unless they get 100 percent of the constituency vote,” he told .
Jordan said Thursday he hopes Republicans will rally around Scalise. “I do, and I’ve made that clear since yesterday,” Jordan said.
But when asked if he would rule out taking the job if Scalise couldn’t get there, Jordan didn’t have a clear answer. “I will nominate Steve to the floor and I hope we can rally around a speaker,” the Ohio Republican said.
Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan, expressed displeasure with Scalise’s candidacy for speaker in an interview on Fox News Radio, noting that the House majority leader was recently diagnosed with cancer.
“I just don’t know how you can get this done when you have such a serious problem,” Trump said.
The intraparty opposition to Scalise raises questions about how Republicans can escape the speaker conundrum that makes it impossible for them to govern at all.
While some on Capitol Hill believe the weekend’s brutal attack on Israel could prompt Republicans to quickly choose a leader — House members received a classified briefing on Israel on Wednesday before voting to select a speaker — the meeting was marked by deep divisions That led to Kevin McCarthy being sacked last week and now the search for a new spokesman has stalled.
With the number of people adhering to the boycott already trending in the wrong direction, some House Republicans are weighing whether it’s time to turn to other options as pressure mounts to address pressing needs such as Israel’s war and government funding.
Some lawmakers have suggested that if Scalise doesn’t hit his mark soon, they will need to nominate a new candidate.
Republican Rep. Mark Green said if Scalise can’t get the votes, “someone else will need to step up.”
Another idea floated during the closed-door session was whether Republicans should try to expand the powers of North Carolina Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry so the House could pass legislation, such as one targeting Israel, multiple lawmakers told . resolution.
But members stressed that this was not a serious conversation at the moment, but just something being discussed.
“This is an option we can pursue,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., told reporters.
Separately, a source familiar with the conversations told that some House Democrats have begun preliminary conversations with some Republicans about who would be interested in working with them if Scalise withdraws.
House Rules Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma is one of the Republicans interested by Democrats, the sources added. But any deal with Republicans won’t be free, and Democrats say they’ll need to make significant concessions to make negotiations a reality.
Even the support Scalise won proved fickle. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna said Wednesday after meeting with Scalise that she felt “Reassured” is enough to support his nomination as speaker.
But after leaving Thursday’s meeting, Luna said she no longer supports Scalise. “Right now we need someone who can unite the party, but no candidate has 217 votes yet,” the Florida Republican said.
While many Scalise holdouts say they support Jordan, many Republicans believe Jordan may not be a viable alternative because he lost the nomination race to Scalise and when he didn’t do so right away , some Republicans were outraged as Scalise followed.
“If Scalise doesn’t succeed, the next guy will get fewer votes,” Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said of Jordan. “By the way, I think it’s more controversial. So it’s not a good thing for the place.”
Rep. Erin Houchin, R-Indiana, said she didn’t know “at this point whether it would be Jordan or Scalise or even someone else.”
“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” she said, “and it’s hard to predict.”
This story and headline have been updated to include additional developments.