Representative Steve Scalise narrowly won the GOP nomination for speaker of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but a slew of Republicans still have their doubts.
The party’s razor-thin majority requires a nearly unanimous vote to win the speakership, but so far 13 Republicans, including Representatives Nancy Mace and George Santos, have publicly stated that they plan to vote against Scalise whenever ballots are cast.
That’s more than enough to prevent the Louisiana representative from ever grasping the gavel. In order to win, the majority leader will need to earn 217 votes—slightly fewer than usual, since the House holds two vacancies. As of now, Scalise has only 208 Republicans backing him.
Scalise’s job is made more difficult by the fact that his holdouts are far from unified in their opposition: It’s not clear that he could offer a slate of concessions, as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, did, to appease enough of them to support his candidacy.
Before Tuesday’s nomination, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters that she feels Scalise isn’t healthy enough to handle the stress that comes with running the House. (Scalise has multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.) Representative Thomas Massie wants assurances from the GOP nominee that the party won’t vote on omnibus spending bills. Meanwhile Mace, who campaigned with Scalise and trumpeted his endorsement in her 2020 race, says she can’t “in good conscience” get behind a candidate who once spoke at a white supremacist event and had compared himself to David Duke, according to Politico.
Team Trump, who had backed Representative Jim Jordan for the role, told The Messenger that the former president won’t be lifting a finger to help Scalise sway the outliers. The drama in the House is familiar: Last winter, McCarthy narrowly won the speakership after a historic 15 ballots—and only secured the gavel after agreeing to a number of concessions that ultimately led him to be removed earlier this month.
That plan of attack didn’t work out well for him. After months spent trying to appease far-right members of his party, McCarthy got the boot for negotiating a short-term bipartisan stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.
But Scalise, who is still the clear favorite after winning over Representatives Jordan and Matt Gaetz, has some advantages that the former speaker didn’t.
Namely, trust. Unlike McCarthy, Scalise has yet to make or break promises to the holdouts in his party—earning favor with members of the far right, who long distrusted the former speaker.
And the Louisiana Republican has already started churning some undecided votes into yeses. On Tuesday, Representative Anna Paulina Luna flipped to Team Scalise after the nominee spoke with her about impeaching President Joe Biden and subpoenaing his son Hunter Biden. Scalise may ultimately turn it around. For now, the deck is stacked against him. House Republicans are increasingly ungovernable. There may be no figure who can unify them.