The House remains far from choosing its next Speaker to replace ousted Congressman Kevin McCarthy after the leading heir apparent, Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise, dropped from the race last night despite a majority of GOP lawmakers backing him on Wednesday.
“Our conference still has to come together and it’s not there,” the Louisiana Republican said on Thursday. “There are still some people that have their own agendas. And I was very clear—we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs.”
While Scalise stressed that America needs a Speaker—Congress cannot pass legislation and act on priorities like funding the government and aiding Israel and Ukraine until one is chosen—he said that House Republicans face “schisms that have to get resolved.”
The conservative holdouts who refused to back Scalise didn’t appear to have a problem with the man himself. Rather, their issues appear rooted in opposition to Congressional norms and leadership as a whole. Scalise, who serves as Republican Majority Leader, has been a member of the party’s upper ranks since 2013.
Part of the terms McCarthy agreed to in his quest to become Speaker included commitments to provide rank-and-file members with greater influence. His ousting came after he worked with Democrats to avert a government shutdown that some members of the hard right opposed.
While Scalise may be more popular with some conservatives than McCarthy, Brian Brox, a professor with the Department of Political Science at Tulane University, said Scalise is similar to McCarthy in that he would be inclined to work with Democrats when necessary.
“I don’t think that the far right necessarily distrust Scalise as a person, but they do have a lot of distrust about the way that the House is going to operate,” Brox told Newsweek. “I haven’t heard anything from Scalise in the last week or two that suggests he’s going to drastically shift more in the very Conservative’s favor.”
One person whom the hard right seems more optimistic about is Scalise’s original challenger for the speakership, Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, who lost to Scalise in a 113-99 vote. Jordan, founding chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, is a strong ally of Donald Trump and a popular voice in conservative media.
Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas, policy chair of the Freedom Caucus, expressed support for Jordan Thursday on the conservative Glenn Beck podcast, saying he’s “not of the swamp,” the term used to generally describe malpractice in Washington.
Despite support from Conservatives, however, moderate lawmakers may be reticent to support Jordan, who Punchbowl News reports is already making calls regarding a speakership bid. According to the outlet, at least five GOP lawmakers have come out against a Jordan speakership. This would appear to leave Jordan one vote shy of the 217 votes needed to become Speaker, assuming all lawmakers are present and voting “yes” or “no.”
If Jordan cannot win the votes, it’s possible other members of leadership could make a run, like House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota or House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, but they could face opposition similar to Scalise and McCarthy.
In the meantime, Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will continue to fill the role of Speaker pro tempore until a new leader is selected. While that role is largely ceremonial and focussed on overseeing the vote for a new Speaker, Sarah Binder, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, said McHenry could be granted additional powers.
If Republicans cannot decide on a new Speaker and Democrats do not offer the votes needed to support a consensus candidate who’d consider the interests of both parties, the House could vote to grant McHenry additional powers to ensure the lower chamber functions while Republicans decide their next leader.
“I don’t see any procedural or parliamentary limitation to McHenry, or those around him, encouraging him to get the House back into session,” Binder told Newsweek. “If someone were to challenge him on the floor, then it could essentially come to a vote of the whole House, and then the whole House would decide, does the Speaker pro tem have these powers that he’s exerting.”