WASHINGTON — More than 24 hours after Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Scalise to be the next House speaker, they remained mired in divisions and no closer to electing him as deep angst persisted after an hours-long meeting.
Exiting the meeting before it ended, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., openly fretted that his party’s narrow majority may never find the 217 votes necessary to elect a speaker.
He blasted eight Republican “traitors” — a word he used four times in a hallway interview — who voted with Democrats to remove former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and “put us in this situation.” And if those eight decide to back Scalise, Rogers warned, “then there’s just another eight like them” who could create further trouble.
“The bottom line is we have a very fractured conference, and to limit ourselves to just getting 217 out of our conference, I think, is not a wise path,” Rogers told NBC News, adding that Republicans may “absolutely” need some Democratic votes to elect a speaker.
Rogers, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it should be up to Democrats to come to them and make an offer, and currently “they haven’t offered jack.” Democrats say the GOP — who control the chamber — should make the first move.
“That is going to be up to our caucus to make that decision. But our door is open,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said when asked about Rogers’ suggestion of a deal with Republicans on a coalition speaker. “We want to get back to governing.”
The GOP meeting ended Thursday without a plan for a House vote on a speaker. The chamber is split between 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats, requiring 217 votes to elect a speaker. Democrats unified to nominate Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., for the post.
‘No consensus candidate for speaker’
Scalise has a significant share of defections, including some who opposed McCarthy (like Reps. Bob Good, R-Va., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C.), and others who voted to keep McCarthy in the job but aren’t sold on Scalise (like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.). But he has also won over other McCarthy foes, like Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Tim Burchett, R-Tenn.
“There is no consensus candidate for speaker,” Luna said on X. “We need to stay in Washington till we figure this out. I will no longer be voting for scalise. I don’t even think we make it to the floor.”
The majority leader struck an optimistic tone.
“Obviously issues have come up over the last week about the whole process of how we get our conference back on track,” Scalise said. “I think individually, people have had questions, and I felt it would be much better if we did it in full view — where it’s not individually, where people don’t think that there are side deals going on, where everybody can see, as Republicans talking amongst ourselves, what those issues are. The good news is our support continues to grow. We’re continuing to work to narrow the gap. And that’s going on. And we’re going to continue the meetings. There are some other members that want to meet as a group, individually.”
Some Republican lawmakers were growing nervous about the prospect of prolonged paralysis in the House, which cannot conduct business without a speaker.
Some say empower acting Speaker McHenry
Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, who leads the center-right Republican Governance Group, said there’s growing support for temporarily empowering McHenry as speaker “potentially for 30, 45, 60 days — something along those lines.”
“The world is on fire. And we need to address these problems. We’ve got 34 days until [government funding] runs due again,” Joyce told reporters. “So it’s important that we get back to the business of running this country and get over the internal feuds.”
Joyce said it’s unclear when the House could vote for a speaker. Many Republicans want to wait until a candidate has the votes to avoid multiple rounds of ballots, like McCarthy faced in January.
Rogers said no to McHenry: “Steve Scalise is the majority winner in our conference, so he’s gonna be the person that’s our next speaker if we get a speaker, ever.”
After the meeting, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who lost the nomination to Scalise, downplayed the idea of elevating McHenry temporarily and encouraged Republicans to support the majority leader. “Steve is the speaker designee,” he said. “That’s where we need to go.”
McHenry, for his part, said his job is to take steps toward the election of Scalise after Republicans nominated him as speaker.
“We have a speaker designee, and it’s my duty to facilitate that vote,” McHenry said Thursday.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he left the conference “more optimistic” that Scalise would get to 217 votes, without saying what was behind that optimism.
He said the meeting was “very civil, very to the point.”
“I don’t enjoy sitting in the cheap seats for an extended period, so I said my piece and I’m heading back the office,” Lucas said.
Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., a vocal McCarthy supporter and critic of the lawmakers who voted to remove him, said he’d support Scalise if it’s clear the rest of the Republican conference does, too.
“If that’s where the conference is, yeah,” he said. “We have to elect a speaker. But somebody needs to get to 217.”