The House GOP’s two candidates for speaker detailed their plans during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday for avoiding a government shutdown – a key issue for members, and one that sank Kevin McCarthy’s speakership.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan made their pitches during the Tuesday meeting ahead of a conference vote for speaker on Wednesday, but GOP lawmakers made clear that the conference remains divided, and there’s a heavy dose of skepticism among Republicans that they will quickly coalesce around either candidate to be the next speaker.
Jordan told members he wants a long-term, stopgap spending bill that would cut current spending levels by 1% in order to give them more time to pass individual spending bills, according to multiple lawmakers in the room.
Rep. Don Bacon, a key moderate Republican, said he is leaning toward Scalise but was impressed by how “pragmatic” Jordan’s pitch was.
“Because of his past, I think we expected to hear the Freedom Caucus message – it was not that. It was very pragmatic,” Bacon said. “And I thought convincing, that he would do his best to represent everybody and I thought something like – they could work with the Democrats in the Senate, he has got to work with a Democratic president. So I thought he did a great job.”
Scalise, however, didn’t go as far in suggesting the need for a stopgap bill, but told members he wants to pass all 12 appropriation bills and force negotiations with the Senate.
“I think we’re voting not just for a speaker, but for the speaker’s plan to get us through the next 75 days. The appropriations cycle. And the biggest difference between Scalise and Jordan is Jordan has a plan to avoid a shutdown. And it wasn’t clear to me that Scalise does,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who is backing Jordan.
Both Jordan and Scalise committed to supporting one another if they become the nominee, lawmakers said. And both committed to continuing the House GOP’s impeachment inquiry, according to lawmakers in the room.
Scalise told reporters leaving Tuesday’s forum that Republicans had a “great forum” and he was building a coalition in the conference, though he did not answer whether he thought he had the votes to secure the nomination.
“People want to see us get back on track. We need a Congress that’s working,” Scalise said. “Tomorrow, we need to get Congress back to work. Speaker Scalise on day one – we will, number one, be passing a resolution to express our strong support for Israel – Chairman (Mike) McCaul’s bill, which has over 200 cosponsors.”
But Republicans Tuesday evening expressed skepticism that they would be able to quickly elect a new speaker.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a pretty a divided conference right now,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican. “So I think this might take a little time to sort out.”
GOP Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida said, “No one is close to 217,” which is what will be required on the floor to win the speakership.
During the forum Tuesday, Cammack pressed Scalise and Jordan on what “promises” they made to members in their bid to become speaker, according to a source familiar with the meeting. It’s a pertinent question given that some of McCarthy’s January side deals to become speaker became a factor in his detractors’ decision to oust him.
Jordan’s response, according to a source familiar, was that the only promise he made was to “fight for you all.” Scalise, however, didn’t answer the question, the source said.
Vulnerable Republican Rep. David Valadao of California would not say which candidate for speaker he would support, but warned that it will be difficult for either Scalise or Jordan to get the needed votes.
“I think both candidates are going to struggle to get to 218,” he said.
McCarthy said Tuesday that he will support whichever candidate for speaker gets the Republican GOP conference’s support, after urging his supporters in the conference not to nominate him for speaker.
Asked who he would vote for while standing outside the party’s candidate forum, McCarthy told reporters, “Whoever comes out of there.”
After leaving open the idea Monday he could be renominated for speaker, McCarthy said Tuesday that he told his allies in the room not to nominate him. “I know a lot of them want to nominate me. I told them, ‘Please do not nominate me,’ ” he said. “There are two people running in there. I’m not one of them.”
McCarthy said that he only expected two members to be nominated, and that how they deal with the eight Republicans who voted to oust him will determine whether House Republicans are able to govern going forward.
“It’s more than selecting a speaker. If this conference continues to allow 4% of the conference to partner with Democrats when 96% of the conference wants something else, they will never lead,” McCarthy said.
Asked whether they could vote on a speaker this week, he said, “I expect there to be a vote and elect a new speaker this week.”
Some allies to Scalise saw McCarthy’s maneuvering heading into the speaker’s vote this week as designed to hobble Scalise’s bid for speaker, which has heightened tension between their camps.
McCarthy and Scalise have maintained a cordial working relationship over the years but have long been seen as potential rivals. Scalise considered challenging McCarthy for leader in 2018, and this year, McCarthy tapped his trusted allies Reps. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Garret Graves of Louisiana – not his top leadership deputies – to help him with his January speaker’s bid, the debt ceiling crisis and government funding deadline.
McHenry is now serving as interim speaker.
On Monday night, the conference gathered for the first time since last week’s historic vote to oust McCarthy, but the two-hour session left them no closer toward coalescing around a speaker nominee and a path forward as they debated potential rules changes and grapple with the raw feelings lingering after the unprecedented events of last week.
While the impetus on Republicans to pick a new speaker escalated after the terrorist attack in Israel over the weekend, the House GOP conference remains bitterly divided over how it should proceed – and who can get the 217 votes needed to lead it.
Republicans are preparing for the prospect that neither Scalise nor Jordan can get the votes to be elected speaker, leaving the conference with no clear path forward. They’re also divided over the rules that the conference will use to elect a new speaker – while hoping to avoid the embarrassment of the 15-vote marathon that played out for McCarthy in January.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.