The likelihood of Steve Scalise’s ascent to the speakership is high at this hour, with his 113-99 victory over Jim Jordan in the House Republican Conference meeting. But there are a few challenges ahead that could prove difficult in an upcoming afternoon of voting on the floor.
Jordan’s total was disappointing for his supporters, who had hoped the vote would effectively be flipped, leading Scalise to bow out and wait for another day, content with his continued role as majority leader. But Jordan’s team is not exactly expert at whipping votes, and the abstention of eight members didn’t help him any.
What Scalise brings, effectively, is a normal continuity of leadership. He is ideologically essentially indistinguishable from Kevin McCarthy, making clear the lie that any of this, from the perspective of The Hateful Eight, was about some deep principle. His ties with K Street are widely known, and while his personal story of overcoming the attempted assassination by a rabid Bernie Sanders supporter on an Alexandria baseball field is certainly inspiring, there’s no reason to believe that he will bring anything different to the job of the speaker.
What’s more, the holdouts on a Scalise speaker vote are likely to extract significant commitments of their own — perhaps not to the degree that McCarthy’s foes did in January, but enough to alter the trajectory of fiscal policy in the House. There is no clear plan from Scalise as of yet regarding the fiscal challenges the Congress faces, and far less clarity on CRs and the omnibus potential than members got from Jim Jordan.
In the event that Scalise rises to the speakership, as most expect, the consequences for Matt Gaetz will likely be muted. He has already endorsed Scalise for speaker, itself an admission that his biggest issue with McCarthy was that he did not intervene to stop an ethics investigation into his behavior. Nancy Mace, for her part, endorsed Jordan. That Scarlet “A” used to be something you earned, not that you got as a participation trophy — but these are late Gen Xers we’re talking about, never interested in doing the work.
For the House GOP, this is a pivotal moment in one sense: neither Scalise nor Jordan can marshal the kind of fundraising capability applied with such force by Kevin McCarthy. The potential for holding the House is drastically hurt by this shift in power, and that’s why Democrats unanimously supported it. It remains to be seen if the health challenges Scalise is now battling hamper his ability to do the job of the speaker with such a tenuous hold on power, in a critical election for Republicans after losing three of the last four presidential elections.