GOP says time is running out for Scalise to lock down the speakership

GOP says time is running out for Scalise to lock down the speakership

It’s not just Kevin McCarthy — plenty of House Republicans are warning Steve Scalise that he’s almost out of time to win the GOP votes he needs to be speaker.

And the longer Scalise hustles to win over his critics, the more allies of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) see a new opening for their candidate to come roaring back into contention.

Scalise used a closed-door Republican meeting Thursday to try to dispel claims he has made back-door deals to win more support. Some members described the meeting as a course correction after the Louisiana Republican won the GOP nomination for speaker, then hinted he would force his skeptics into a quick floor vote — only to backtrack from that.

But inside the room, the majority leader issued little direction to the conference. Other Republicans viewed it as another airing of grievances. (New York Rep. George Santos, who has refused to back Scalise, called it a “waste of time.”)

“This is petty. This is petty. And I’m getting fricken tired of it,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who likened the GOP’s antics to the soapy TV show “House of Cards.”

The longer Republicans delay taking Scalise’s candidacy to the floor, the darker their already-furious mood becomes. Scalise clearly lacks the votes he’d need to win on the floor, with several Republicans predicting that he and his team will continue to work the phones and whip votes through at least early next week.

Some senior GOP lawmakers, though, have already grown impatient and say it’s time to force their colleagues to vote.

“We may just need to bring it to the floor and have another episode, like we did with McCarthy. I don’t really know if we’re gonna be able to get the requisite votes right now,” a frustrated House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul told reporters amid the meeting, referring to the 15-ballot drama that elected the former speaker in January.

McCaul, no stranger to identifying global perils, then issued a blunt critique of his colleagues’ failure to come together behind a speaker: “One of the biggest threats I see is in that room because we can’t unify as a conference.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the House remains frozen as tensions rise. Scalise is, so far, keeping members in Washington, signaling he could call up a speaker vote later in the day. Many Republicans, though, are skeptical he would allow a failed vote, and believe they will soon be sent home for the weekend — kicking off a second straight week without a leader.

Even Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), who had flipped to supporting Scalise one day earlier, said Thursday that she was now skeptical and would not support him on the floor.

“I need someone that can unite the conference because we’re fractured,” Luna said while leaving the conference meeting.

Meanwhile, backers of the defeated Jordan have begun to talk seriously about a path forward for the Ohio Republican. They believe his pledge to give a nomination speech for Scalise and encourage allies to back the Louisianan is more due to strong-arming rather than an actual belief that his rival should be speaker.

Jordan told POLITICO that he is reiterating to colleagues and former President Donald Trump that he’s for Scalise — but he sidestepped when pressed if he would formally throw his name back in the ring, should Scalise fall short.

“Steve’s our speaker designee. I’m for him,” Jordan said.

One GOP member who is backing Jordan confirmed that the Ohio Republican is talking like a Scalise backer in private. But, this member added, “that doesn’t necessarily dictate how we will vote.”

The most important thing, this lawmaker added, is finding a candidate who can get the near-unanimous GOP support that’s needed on the floor — starting to vote without that, the Republican added, would happen “at their own peril.”

At least a half-dozen of the Republicans publicly refusing to back Scalise have specifically vowed to support Jordan on the floor.

Adding to the equation is Trump’s suggestion that Scalise should bow out because of his cancer diagnosis, which Luna pointed to in telling reporters why she flipped on Scalise.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), whose name is often floated as a consensus speaker pick, warned that the House GOP’s failure to support the candidate who won a majority of its votes will “paralyze the country indefinitely at what’s a very difficult moment.”

Cole added that the current chaos heightens the probability of an eventual House coalition government — centrist Republicans joining with Democrats.

“If people aren’t very careful, they’re going to open the door for a coalition speakership, which is not something that we should want to happen as Republicans,” Cole said, emphasizing he doesn’t want to be speaker.

Scalise also has more worries than just the conservative hardliners criticizing him in public. Some centrists were alarmed to hear Luna was claiming Scalise offered her closed-door concessions, including a vote on an impeachment inquiry.

“The message I heard is: no side deals, no commitment,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said.

Asked how long the speaker fight might drag out, he replied: “When does government funding run out?”

(The answer: Nov. 17.)

Caitlin Emma, Anthony Adragna, Nicholas Wu and Mia McCarthy contributed.

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