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House GOP picks Steve Scalise as speaker nominee, but unclear if he can get the votes to win gavel

Originally Published: 11 OCT 23 05:01 ET

Updated: 11 OCT 23 15:34 ET

By Clare Foran, Haley Talbot, Melanie Zanona and Annie Grayer, CNN

(CNN) — House Republicans voted behind closed doors to select Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as their nominee for speaker, but it’s unclear if he can lock down the votes needed to win the gavel following Kevin McCarthy’s abrupt ouster.

As of now, Scalise, who currently serves as House majority leader, lacks the 217 votes needed to be elected speaker in a floor vote and multiple Republicans have not committed to supporting him, signaling the potential for a drawn-out fight for the gavel. It’s not yet clear when the House will hold a speaker vote.

Until a speaker is elected, the House remains effectively paralyzed following McCarthy’s removal, an unprecedented situation that has taken on new urgency amid Israel’s war against Hamas. Raising the stakes further, the longer it takes Republicans to elect a new speaker, the less time lawmakers will have to try to avert a government shutdown with a funding deadline looming in mid-November.

Scalise won out over Rep. Jim Jordan in a vote by the House GOP conference on Wednesday to pick their speaker nominee. The outcome of the nomination vote was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has made a name for himself as a staunch Trump ally.

The question now is whether Scalise will be able to win over Republican holdouts, a major obstacle in his path to the gavel. House Republicans hold a narrow majority and Scalise can only afford to lose four GOP votes on the floor and still win the speakership.

McCarthy’s ouster, which was driven by a group of hardline conservatives, has intensified deep divisions within the House GOP conference and led to an escalation of tensions that now threaten to make it even more challenging for Republicans to unite behind a new speaker.

GOP holdouts create obstacle for Scalise

A number of Republicans would not commit to voting for Scalise for speaker on the floor following a vote earlier in the day on Wednesday to nominate the Louisiana Republican for the post.

More than a half-dozen Republicans said on Wednesday they would vote for Jordan on the floor, while several others said they remained undecided on how they would vote, prompting Scalise to delay floor action on the speakership and leaving the House in paralysis.

The swift opposition to support Scalise on the floor made clear that the GOP party fight over who will be speaker was not going to be quickly resolved. Scalise’s allies had hoped to hold a vote Wednesday afternoon, but sources told CNN that no vote would happen Wednesday amid the opposition – giving Scalise time to get needed support before going to the floor.

“I’m not supporting Steve Scalise, I’ll be voting for Jim Jordan,” Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia told CNN’s Manu Raju. “Well, Jim Jordan presented a strong plan for a us, a detailed plan on how to move forward. We didn’t hear that plan from Steve Scalise. It was more vague answers.”

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “Surprises are for little kids at birthday parties, not Congress. So, I let Scalise know in person that he doesn’t have my vote on the floor, because he has not articulated a viable plan for avoiding an omnibus,” a reference to a sweeping package of spending bills.

But Jordan is working to convince his colleagues who voted for him to join him in supporting Scalise as Republicans try to avoid another messy floor fight, a source with direct knowledge told CNN.

Jordan plans to vote for Scalise on the floor and is encouraging his colleagues to do the same, the source said.

Scalise defeats Jordan in nomination vote

Republicans met behind closed doors Wednesday morning to select a speaker nominee.

The final vote tally for the nomination was 113 for Scalise and 99 for Jordan – putting Scalise below the 217-vote threshold needed to win the speakership in a full vote on the House floor.

The outcome of the nomination vote was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has made a name for himself as a staunch Trump ally.

Earlier on Wednesday, Republicans rejected a proposal to raise the threshold required to select a GOP speaker nominee – a proposal that was aimed at preventing a messy public fight on the House floor.

The rules change would have raised the threshold to select a speaker nominee from a majority of the GOP conference – or 111 votes – to 217 votes, a majority of the full House, the number required to win the speaker’s gavel when the entire chamber holds its vote.

The speaker’s race is poised to set off a scramble to fill other spots in GOP leadership. Oklahoma GOP Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma announced on Wednesday that he will run for the position of majority leader.

Scalise is a veteran of House GOP leadership

Scalise has risen through the ranks of leadership during his time in Congress. In the position of House majority leader, Scalise has served as the second-highest-ranking House Republican after McCarthy, prior to the the historic vote to oust the speaker.

Scalise is a prominent figure in the House GOP conference and has long been seen as either a potential successor, or rival, to McCarthy. Before he became majority leader, Scalise served as House GOP whip, a role focused on vote counting and ensuring support for key party priorities. The majority leader, his current role, oversees the House floor and schedules legislation for votes.

The Louisiana Republican is no stranger to adversity.

A shooting in 2017 left him seriously wounded, with a grueling, monthslong recovery process. Scalise was shot by a gunman who opened fire as congressional Republicans were practicing for an annual charity baseball game.

In August, Scalise announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which he described as “a very treatable blood cancer.” In September, Scalise told reporters that in response to treatment, his cancer “has dropped dramatically.”

This story and headline have updated with additional developments.

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