WASHINGTON ― A series of meetings this week has seemingly failed to move House Republicans any closer to settling on a plan to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker of the House.
“We are a broken conference,” Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) told reporters after walking out of another meeting in the Capitol basement on Thursday.
Republicans are leaderless because a small faction ousted McCarthy following his decision to move legislation with Democratic votes last month that avoided a government shutdown.
On Wednesday, a slim majority of Republicans voted for Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) to become McCarthy’s replacement. Scalise prevailed by a vote of 113 to 99 over Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), but Scalise needs 217 votes to become speaker and seems to be nowhere close to that amount of support from the 221 Republicans currently serving in the House.
Meanwhile, without a speaker, the House can’t even perform the routine task of passing a symbolic resolution supporting Israel, much less pass legislation providing material support to Israel or Ukraine.
“The world’s on fire. Our adversaries are watching what we do and quite frankly they like it,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.
He expects his pro-Israel resolution to be the first thing to be voted on once the House reopens, but he said the clock is ticking to send Israel more weaponry to defend itself against Hamas. “We’re talking weeks. You can’t drag this out any longer.”
The chaos among Republicans also could collide with another government funding deadline next month. Moderates warned when McCarthy was thrown out of the speaker’s office that the disarray would threaten another government shutdown, and as each day passes with no progress, the prospect of a funding lapse seems more likely.
The Republicans who publicly opposed Scalise have offered a variety of reasons, some seemingly dubious. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) complained that Scalise has never called him; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) pointed to his ongoing treatment for blood cancer.
“There’s vagaries. There’s ‘he’s been here too long,’ there’s ‘my constituents want Jim Jordan,’” Rep. Dan Mueser (R-Pa.) said, noting that Jordan has indicated he backs Scalise.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) walked out of the conference room saying she would be “going with who Trump endorses,” and she said she believed he had just put out a statement — an apparent reference to former president Donald Trump talking about Scalise’s illness on Fox News. Luna then said on social media she would “no longer be voting for Scalise.”
Luna’s turnabout was particularly notable ― a complete 360-degree turn in two days. Originally she was a Jordan supporter, then Wednesday afternoon said she was satisfied with commitments Scalise had made and would vote for him before flipping again to not vote for Scalise.
Scalise painted the latest meeting in a positive light, as another step toward eventually his election to speaker and the reopening of the House floor for business.
“We’re going to be talking some more as a smaller group but a cross-section representing every swath of our conference,” he said.
Scalise said he fielded every question he was asked during the two and half hour meeting. But he said he was trying to avoid the appearance of cutting side deals to garner specific votes, something McCarthy did in order to lock up his last few votes to be speaker in January.
“I’m not cutting any deals. I want to meet in front of all of our members,” he said.
Several Scalise skeptics who left the party meeting were on their way back to their offices when they were summoned back to another face-to-face with their would-be speaker. They turned around in a basement tunnel and trudged back toward the Capitol.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) likened his colleagues to a football team that lines up but never snaps the ball because nobody listened to the quarterback’s play call in the huddle.
“This is the worst team I’ve ever been on,” Kelly said.