WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Scalise on Wednesday to be the next House speaker but struggled to quickly unite their deeply divided majority and elect the conservative in a public floor vote after ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the job.
In private balloting at the Capitol, House Republicans narrowly pushed aside Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the firebrand Judiciary Committee chairman, in favor of Scalise, the current majority leader. The Louisiana congressman, who is battling blood cancer, is seen as a hero to some after surviving a mass shooting on lawmakers at a congressional baseball game practice in 2017.
"We have a lot of work to do," Scalise said afterward.
A floor vote of the whole House could come as soon, but tensions are still running high among Republicans who have brought the House to a standstill with bitter infighting after McCarthy’s historic removal last week. Wednesday's planned voting was uncertain.
It’s an extraordinary moment of political chaos at a time of uncertainty at home and crisis abroad, just 10 months after Republicans swept to power. Aspiring to operate as a team and run government more like a business, the GOP majority has drifted far from that goal.
"We need to make sure we’re sending a message to people all throughout the world, that the House is open to doing the people’s business," Scalise said.
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaks to reporters following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Republican leadership continues to look fo
What's uncertain is whether Jordan, the hard-liner backed by Donald Trump, will throw his support to Scalise in what is certain to be a close vote of the full House. Democrats are set to oppose the Republican nominee.
Jordan said little after the vote, only that the GOP majority "is divided."
A centrist leader, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said, "We do need to get a speaker in place so we can govern."
"What we should have heard today after the vote count was, 'I will heartily support Steve. Let's get behind him,'" Bacon said. "We did not hear that."
Americans are watching. One-quarter of Republicans say they approve of the decision by a small group of Republicans to remove McCarthy as speaker. Three in 10 Republicans believe it was a mistake, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The hard-right coalition of lawmakers that ousted McCarthy, R-Calif., has shown what an oversize role a few lawmakers can have in choosing his successor.
"I am not thrilled with either choice right now," said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who voted to oust McCarthy.
It's unclear whether Scalise can amass the votes that would be needed from almost all Republicans to overcome the Democratic opposition. Usually, the majority needed would be 218 votes, but there are currently two vacant seats, dropping the threshold to 217.
Many Republicans want to prevent the spectacle of a messy House floor fight like the grueling January brawl when McCarthy became speaker.
"People are not comfortable going to the floor with a simple majority and then having C-SPAN and the rest of the world watch as we have this fight," said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla. "We want to have this family fight behind closed doors."
Behind closed doors, the Republicans voted to set aside a proposed a rules change that would have tried to ensure a majority vote before the nominee was presented for a full floor vote.
Without the rules change, the Republican lawmakers would be expected to agree to a majority-wins process.
Neither Scalise nor Jordan was seen as the heir apparent to McCarthy, who was removed in a push by the far-right flank after the speaker led Congress to approve legislation that averted a government shutdown.
All three men have been here before. In 2018, they were similarly vying for leadership, with McCarthy and Scalise extending the rivalry to this day.
Scalise was in line for the job, but faced a challenge from Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, who was viewed as a more hard-edged option, after McCarthy's ouster.
Jordan is known for his close alliance with Trump, particularly when the then-president was working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump backed Jordan's bid for the gavel.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who engineered McCarthy's ouster, said they would be willing to support either Scalise or Jordan.
"Long live Speaker Scalise," Gaetz said after the vote.
For now, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who was named as the speaker pro-tempore, is effectively in charge. He has shown little interest in expanding his power beyond the role he was assigned — an interim leader tasked with ensuring the election of the next speaker.
The role was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ensure the continuity of government. McHenry's name was at the top of a list submitted by McCarthy when he became speaker in January.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.