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Steve Scalise narrowly won the Republican nomination to serve as the next House Speaker, as the party races to determine who will lead the lower chamber of Congress and address pressing issues on the US’s domestic and international agendas.
Scalise, the majority leader, bested Jim Jordan, who chairs the judiciary committee, in a vote among House Republicans on Wednesday. The final tally was 113-99.
In a short speech after his victory, Scalise said his first act as Speaker would be to pass a resolution in support of Israel in its fight against Hamas. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
First, Scalise will face a vote by the full House, which Republicans control by a slim margin. A vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.
To secure the gavel, Scalise will need to win over House Republicans who supported Jordan and other sceptics. “It was almost a coin toss,” said Tennessee Republican Scott DesJarlais.
Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, told the Financial Times he voted “present” for Speaker during the Republican conference vote — effectively abstaining — after neither Scalise nor Jordan adequately answered his question on Tuesday about who won the 2020 presidential election. “It’s a yes or no question,” he said.
Thomas Massie, a Kentucky congressman who supported Jordan, said he would not vote for Scalise because he had “not articulated a viable plan” for passing an alternative to the typical massive end-of-year spending bill. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, also said he would not vote for Scalise.
Asked whether Scalise could win the vote on the floor, Montana Republican Ryan Zinke replied, “God willing.”
Scalise is vying to fill the top House leadership post after eight rebel members of his party led an unprecedented revolt against Kevin McCarthy last week. He has already won over at least one of those — Tim Burchett told the FT that he would support Scalise.
Republicans are hoping to avoid a replay of events in January, when it took a record 15 rounds of voting for the party to elect McCarthy as Speaker.
“I want to get unified as a conference and have a consistent message that shows the American people what the conservative movement is all about in terms of securing our borders, supporting Israel, getting tough on crime, fixing the economy — all the things that we stand for,” said DesJarlais. “It’d be nice to have a unified message instead of some of the chaos we’ve been living through.”
The abrupt downfall of the former Speaker last week has created disarray in the House. The lower chamber is at a standstill, unable to pass legislation, as the US weighs whether to provide additional aid to Israel and Ukraine in their respective conflicts with Hamas and Russia. Lawmakers must also pass a spending bill by November 17 to avoid a government shutdown.
Scalise, who has climbed up the leadership ladder for the past decade, has pitched himself as a conservative who can put coalitions together. He garnered national attention in 2017, when he survived a shooting at a practice before the annual congressional baseball game. Scalise is viewed as a more traditional Republican on national security issues, and more likely than Jordan to support additional aid to Ukraine.
House armed services chair Mike Rogers told the FT he would support Scalise. “I think he’s the guy who can unify us and get the votes that we need,” Rogers said.
Although several House Republicans have said they would have voted for McCarthy to become Speaker again, he had urged colleagues not to put his name forward. He would not tell reporters who he supported to succeed him.
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