Washington – U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said Friday morning that he wants to see Paul Ryan elected as the next speaker of the House.
That would preclude a run for the speakership by Scalise, of Jefferson, himself – at least until Ryan decides whether he will seek the job. So far, Ryan, R-Wisc., has said he won’t, but he is under increasing pressure from the fractured Republican majority to make a run.
(AP file photo)
The Republicans were thrown into chaos Thursday by the unexpected decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, to withdraw from the campaign to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio. McCarthy was considered the odds-on favorite to gain the endorsement of the Republican Conference, the collective organization of the House Republicans. But intraparty dissension clouded his ability to win a vote in the full House, the hurdle that must be cleared by the speaker, whose position is established in the Constitution.
In anticipation of McCarthy’s ascension from the No. 2 leadership job of majority leader to the speaker’s chair, Scalise – now No. 3 in the majority hierarchy, as whip – declared he would run to succeed McCarthy. He told his supporters early this week that he had the majority support in the Republican conference needed to win. But McCarthy’s decision to end his bid for speaker means there is no longer a vacancy to fill, as McCarthy has said he will remain majority leader.
Scalise, 50, who was elected to Congress in 2008 and chosen whip last year, has been considered a potential candidate for speaker. But Ryan, who was the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, appears to be the consensus choice.
Scalise’s father, Alfred J. “Al” Scalise, of Metairie, passed away early Friday morning and he returned to Louisiana soon after announcing his support to Ryan.
Ryan, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, has consistently said he is not running for speaker, but Boehner and McCarthy have urged him to do so – and his 2012 presidential running mate, Mitt Romney, also has reportedly called him to reinforce the message.
After a closed-door Friday morning meeting of the Republican Conference, some Republican House members said Ryan has indicated he will consider the appeals, likely discussing the situation with his family this weekend. The father of three young children, Ryan, 45, has expressed concern about the heavy demands of the speaker’s job, which involves extensive travel to raise campaign money for his fellow Republicans.
If Ryan does not run, there is no obvious second choice. Before McCarthy withdrew, Jason Chaffetz, of Utah, and Daniel Webster, of Florida, announced they would challenge him, but neither has rallied broad support. Several other names have surfaced, but on one else has flatly declared a candidacy.
As an incumbent member of the leadership, Scalise, if he were to run, could encounter the same difficulties that helped derail McCarthy — and Boehner, whose announcement Sept. 25 that he would step down Oct. 30 was a surprise of its own. Boehner now seems likely to stay in the job beyond this month.
In dropping out of the race, McCarthy said the Republicans need a “fresh face” as speaker.
Boehner’s decision to quit was fueled by a right-wing revolt in the Republican ranks, centered in the House Freedom Caucus, an organization of about 40 deeply conservative members created early this year to drive the party’s agenda to the right.
The Freedom Caucus and some other House Republicans are upset by Boehner’s tactics on controversial issues such as defunding Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal and Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive orders waiving deportation for some categories of undocumented immigrants. Despite majorities in both the House and Senate, the Republicans are not strong enough to steamroll Senate Democrats – who old more power, under Senate rules, than their House counterparts – nor to override presidential vetoes.
Boehner has avoided confrontations with the Democrats that would risk a government shutdown, like the 16-day stoppage in 2013 that moderate Republicans say damaged the party’s image. But many in the Freedom Caucus want to push the Democrats to the limit — and they say their constituents are demanding a take-no-prisoners approach.
Republicans now hold their largest House majority since the 1920s, a 247-188 edge over the Democrats. But the Democrats likely will vote for their own leader, Nancy Pelosi, of California, as speaker, meaning a defection of 30 Republicans from their party’s nominee would deny him or her the majority needed.
It was the prospect of just that sort of defection that played into Boehner’s decision to resign. And it apparently triggered the withdrawal of McCarthy, who said he was not the person to unify the party.
The Freedom Caucus endorsed Webster on Wednesday. But if it has the power to block an election for speaker, it lacks the strength to anoint a winner.
The 2014 election for whip, won by Scalise, was set off by another Republican shake-up: McCarthy, who was then whip, moved up to majority leader when his predecessor, Eric Cantor, suffered a startling defeat in a Virginia primary to Dave Brat, now a Freedom Caucus member. Scalise defeated two other contenders as a proven conservative from a red state, promising to bring that perspective to a leadership team that otherwise includes blue-state Republicans.
But that was then; now Scalise would be bucking the kind of anti-establishment tide that has vaulted non-politicians Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of opinion polls on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And several Republican candidates, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have lambasted their fellow party members in Congress as part of the problem, not the solution.
As a loyal member of leadership, Scalise has more than once followed Boehner’s cue in opposition to the conservative confrontationalists, voting with Democrats to pass legislation opposed by a majority of Republicans, including every other House Republican from Louisiana. Such was the case Sept. 30, when the House passed a stopgap federal-government financing measure that did not defund Planned Parenthood, a conservative target since the release of undercover videos showing organization executives discussing what it would cost putative medical researchers to obtain tissue samples from fetuses aborted at Planned Parenthood clinics.
Those kinds of votes have won Scalise – as well as Boehner and McCarthy – the enmity of right-wing groups, who have demanded the heads of all three Republican leaders.
Another, broader source of concern is Scalise’s 2002 speech in Metairie, while a state representative, to a group that had gathered for a meeting of a white-supremacist organization founded by neo-Nazi David Duke.
The controversy over that speech erupted in late 2014, when a Louisiana blogger publicized the incident. Scalise said he did not know of any Duke links among his audience and that he regretted his appearance. Although some Democrats called for his resignation, Boehner and McCarthy stood by him, and Scalise survived. But Duke-connected criticism of Scalise has continued – including recently from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest – and some Republicans may be loath to add fuel to the fire by installing Scalise in the high-profile post of speaker.
On the plus side for Scalise, he is well-liked in the Republican Conference, and in his role as whip, he has frequent contact with members and plumbs their positions and concerns.