WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday voted to nominate Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., to be the next speaker of the House — but his path to the gavel remains uncertain as he must still secure the votes of nearly every member of his party.
Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in leadership, defeated Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 113-99 in a secret ballot vote behind closed doors to win the party’s nomination. For years, Scalise has been viewed as an heir apparent to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted from power in an internal GOP revolt just a week ago.
But because of the GOP’s razor-thin majority, there is no guarantee that Scalise can win the speaker’s gavel on the House floor, where voting could occur as early as Wednesday afternoon. Just five Republicans have the power to block Scalise, meaning he will need to win the support of at least 217 of the 221 Republicans.
“Obviously, we still have work to do. We’re gonna have to go upstairs on the House floor and resolve this, and then get the House opened again,” Scalise told reporters after the vote. “We see how dangerous of a world it is and how things can change so quickly. We need to make sure we are sending a message to people all throughout the world that the House is open and doing the people’s business.”
The House’s first action under a “Speaker Scalise,” he said, will be passing a resolution in support of Israel.
A sense of uncertainty hung over Republicans immediately after the vote to nominate Scalise, with one defiant supporter of Jordan saying immediately that she won’t back the majority leader.
“I’m voting for Jim Jordan on the floor,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said after the vote.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a longtime McCarthy critic, told NBC News he’s “undecided” on whether to vote for Scalise on the House floor, calling him a “status quo” candidate given his longstanding support for McCarthy as his former deputy.
“It’s hard to envision that he will be a change agent. I think the country recognizes the Congress needs to be changed,” Good said.
Other Republicans openly have raised concerns about Scalise’s health and whether he’s up for the job, which requires long hours and traveling around the country. In August, the Louisiana Republican announced he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and that he was receiving treatment.
Notably, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the chief McCarthy antagonist who triggered the successful vote to evict him, said he’ll support Scalise and encourage other right-leaning Republicans to do the same, calling him an upgrade over McCarthy in every way.
“We’ve got the legend from Louisiana who’s gonna lead us, and I think that he’ll be invigorating to our activists,” Gaetz told reporters. “I think he’ll be a great communicator to the country, and I think he’ll do a great job uniting the Republican conference.”
Democrats will rally behind their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, whom they unanimously nominated Tuesday night.
Shortly after the vote, Jordan huddled with Scalise in the Capitol. Afterward, he said they had a “good” meeting and that he is not whipping support for himself anymore. He also said he is not interested in running for majority leader.
“The conference is divided right now. We need to come together,” Jordan told reporters. A Jordan spokesman later said the Ohio Republican has offered to give a nominating speech on the floor on behalf of Scalise.
Scalise’s uphill battle could be a repeat of January when a band of conservative rebels blocked McCarthy from the speakership in a tense floor fight. It wasn’t until the 15th round of voting that McCarthy secured the gavel, though 269 days later eight Republicans teamed up with all the Democrats and voted to expel him from the speaker’s office.
A former state lawmaker who has represented the New Orleans suburbs in Congress since 2008, Scalise, 58, has had a steady rise to power in Washington. Like Jordan before him, in 2012 Scalise was elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of conservatives on the Hill.
That post served as a launching pad for the affable Scalise, who succeeded McCarthy as majority whip, the No. 3 job and top GOP vote counter, in 2014. When Democrats took over the majority in 2019 and then-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., retired, Scalise moved up the leadership ladder, to minority whip. He kept the No. 2 job in 2023, when Republicans returned to the majority.
Tragedy turned Scalise into a national figure on June 14, 2017.
A gunman targeting Republicans opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., nearly killing Scalise and wounding several others. GOP colleagues saved his life by applying a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
After numerous surgeries, Scalise returned to the Capitol three months later to a hero’s welcome and chatter that he could become speaker one day.
House Administration Chairman Brian Steil, R-Wis., said it was imperative that Republicans rally behind Scalise and quickly elect him speaker given the multiple crises facing America.
“Every day that we’re not united is a missed opportunity. The significance of the issues that are before us as a country, from inflation to debt to the energy crisis to the border crisis, and in particular, the international situation where Israel, one of our closest allies, has been attacked by terrorists from Hamas, requires us to be united,” Steil said.
“We came out of there with Speaker-designee Steve Scalise. He’s the man for the moment. He’s been elected by the conference, and now it’s time for us to unite as a conference.”