Scalise Clears First Hurdle

[ Posted Wednesday, October 11th, 2023 – 15:58 UTC ]

Representative and current Majority Leader Steve Scalise has won his party's nomination for the job of speaker of the House of Representatives. He won a secret ballot held within his own caucus by the not-very-impressive margin of 113-99. But instead of the entire House immediately convening to hold a vote for the speaker's chair, they instead immediately went into recess. Nobody knows when such a vote will be held, meaning the chaos will continue for the time being.

[Editorial note: We had read an earlier report that it would have taken a two-thirds vote within the Republican Caucus to win the nomination, which was simply not true (as Scalise's bare majority shows). We regret repeating this error in previous columns. Mea culpa.]

The battle between Scalise and the other contender, Representative Jim Jordan, was pretty fierce and included Donald Trump endorsing Jordan as well as reports that Kevin McCarthy was privately peeved at Scalise for not doing more to help him save his own speakership -- but even with all that, Scalise emerged victorious.

Jordan, in an incredible display of party unity (which was rather surprising, for him), then privately met with Scalise and reportedly offered to not only throw his support behind Scalise but also to be the one to give him his nominating speech on the floor. This might go a long way towards convincing all of Jordan's supporters to also shift their support to Scalise. But Scalise can only lose four votes from his fellow Republicans -- if five or more vote for someone else, we may see multiple speaker votes the same way we did in January. This time, however, it appears that the wheeling and dealing for votes might happen behind the scenes. If the House stays in recess until the Republicans can put together an actual majority for Scalise, then we won't have to endure vote after vote on the House floor. We may have to wait awhile for that floor vote to happen, however.

There are multiple GOP factions to appease, at least from the early rumors. For some centrists, Scalise is either too conservative or they are still following their former speaker and plan to cast their votes for Kevin McCarthy. Others may adamantly vote for Jim Jordan (after all, Trump told them to), even if Jordan is now on Team Scalise. And then there are the hotheads who dethroned McCarthy, who could vote for anyone under the sun (including Trump himself). So Scalise has some work to do. He's got to assuage a lot of very different factions, which will likely mean making the same sort of promises that McCarthy was forced to make to get the job in the first place.

The biggest one seems to be to keep the rule on the motion to vacate the chair as it currently stands: any one member can call for it, at any time. This is likely to hamstring Scalise from the get-go, and may even result in him having a very short tenure in the job (assuming he eventually gets it, that is). The continuing resolution that McCarthy passed to keep the government open (which got him ousted from the chair) only runs until mid-November. By that point, either a compromise budget deal with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden will have to be agreed upon or another continuing resolution will have to be passed -- or the government will shut down. Even if the government does shut down, eventually some sort of deal will have to be reached. But making such a deal is what ended McCarthy's term, so it would come as no surprise if Scalise was also booted immediately after he makes his own deal with the Democrats.

If this scenario plays out, then whoever manages to become speaker afterwards might have clearer sailing for a while. If the budget battles do get resolved, then there aren't a whole lot of must-pass items for Congress for the next year or so (at least, that I can think of). If the budget's in place and the debt ceiling has already been raised past next year's election, then there won't be any crucial budgetary items on the agenda until the start of next October. There will be bills that must pass, of course, to deal with unexpected developments (disaster aid, for example), but a lot of these are less contentious than the actual budget. But that's looking pretty far down the road. Scalise hasn't even made it to the speaker's chair yet, so I should leave speculation about how long he'll keep it for later.

Right now, Steve Scalise is faced with the same conundrum McCarthy faced. The far-right Chaos Caucus has completely unrealistic demands, since they have a completely unrealistic vision of their own importance in a divided Congress. They want to drive the bus, and they want Senate Democrats and Joe Biden to sit in the back and stop complaining. However, with all the chaos they've already caused, the moderate Republicans are getting bolder in their own demands. These Republicans aren't really all that "moderate," in terms of the political spectrum, but they are from swing districts (or even districts that Biden won) and they are increasingly worried about their own chances for re-election. Being forced to vote on and support the ultra-conservative agenda means weakening their own position with their own constituents. And Scalise has to somehow make promises to them that the Chaos Caucus won't actually be driving the bus. These factional demands are at odds with each other, obviously.

Scalise at least does have a stronger political personality than Kevin McCarthy, who often resembled a jellyfish in his leadership. We'll have to see whether Scalise can keep his own Republicans in line better than McCarthy, if Scalise does win the gavel. He will most likely lean to the right to assuage all the hotheads and have to deal with complaints from the moderates. This may force the moderates to break in a big way and start voting with the Democrats, but that's really just speculation at this point.

At this point the real question is whether Scalise can thread this factional needle even once. Republicans are likely not going to hold a House floor vote for speaker until Scalise has firmed up his support to the point of having a majority on the first vote. But how long will that take? Hours? Days? Weeks? That is the big unanswered question at the moment. How deeply entrenched are the various factions? If one faction's demands would completely contradict another faction's demands, what will Scalise do? Promise them both the sun, the moon, and the stars and hope they just forget about it later (the way McCarthy apparently did)? Or get them together in a room and have them hash out their differences with each other?

We now have a Republican nominee for speaker of the House. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will be the Democrats' nominee, and just as in January every Democrat will vote for him. Steve Scalise has to round up support from all but four of his own caucus in order to have enough votes to win the job. He has cleared the first hurdle, but the second one is going to be a lot higher.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “Scalise Clears First Hurdle”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    Murder is still murder when it's done from a plane, without looking the victims in the eye. Bombing apartment buildings and hospitals for the purpose of collective punishment is murder, because the purpose is to kill non-combatants. Yes, freelance murder undertaken at the initiative of an individual soldier would be punished if they were caught. But the fact that they were following orders does not absolve them.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, the Iraqi PM would like to see Putin mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

    How about that!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, yet, the neoconservatives, including those currently working in the Biden administration, seem pretty full of themselves as they seek to push their agenda throughout the world, still, apparently unable to see the light through their wholly misguided ways.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sorry for being so far off topic.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Again, you have misinterpreted Israeli actions and intentions. Hamas stations weapons, military equipment and tactical centers in civilian zones, so IDF leadership is faced with an impossible choice; allow the most horrific terrorist action to go unanswered and unchecked, or try and hit the military targets and hope that not too many civilians get caught in the middle. That is not murder, except perhaps by Hamas for intentionally putting civilians in the crossfire.


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