The GOP’s search for a new House Speaker has led to mayhem and infighting that has crippled the caucus for weeks now. Despite managing to approve a preliminary nomination of Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise in a two-thirds majority vote on Wednesday, by Thursday afternoon House Republicans were publicly stating the speaker negotiations had descended into “utter chaos.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) lost the caucus vote despite having been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, and though Jordan offered to personally introduce Scalise’s nomination to the House floor there are still enough hold outs to put the 217 votes Scalise needs out of reach.
“You want to talk about confusing the American people?” Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) told CNN on Thursday. “They think this whole place is a circus up here and all of a sudden Jim Jordan is nominating Steve Scalise and we’re voting for Jim Jordan. That’s just utter chaos.”
Upon exiting a closed-door GOP meeting earlier in the day Nehls, who is backing Scalise, quipped to reporters that in the party’s current state not even “the Lord Jesus himself could get 217 votes.” He added that if a Speaker has not been elected by Sunday, he will revive his campaign to have Trump fill the role.
Almost two dozen members of the House GOP have declared they will not vote for Scalise. Among them are Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and the criminally indicted George Santos (R-N.J.). Additional members have declined to commit to voting for Scalise.
Greene raised concerns about Scalise’s recent cancer diagnosis as a justification for her no vote. “He is battling cancer,” Greene told reporters. “I have great compassion for him for that. We have a president right now that clearly has dementia. We have Chuck Schumer, who is 80 years old, [and] is the Democrat leader in the Senate. We have Mitch McConnell, who looks like he has mini-strokes on camera, [also] over 80 years in the Senate. We need a strong fighter for the Speaker.”
Greene also broke with many Republicans who feel that the internal divisions within the caucus should be squared away behind closed doors before moving a nomination to a floor vote. “Let’s do this on the House floor instead of behind closed doors. Stop dragging it out. If Kevin McCarthy had to go 15 rounds then the next Speaker should be able to do the same or more if they have to,” the Georgia congresswoman wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
To no one’s surprise, the chaos agent who kicked off the Republican leadership crisis was fully on board. “I agree with MTG,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has endorsed Scalise, wrote on X. “Let’s do the messy work of governing and leadership selection in front of the people. “Just like I voted against McCarthy time after time … in public … making my argument, others should have to reveal their thinking and be appropriately judged by their voters.”
Gaetz led the push to oust McCarthy earlier this month, succeeding in convincing a small gaggle of hard-line Republicans to support a motion to oust McCarthy from the speakership. The vacancy has paralyzed the speakership during a time of both domestic and international crisis. The House barely managed to avoid a government shutdown over the annual appropriations process in September, and the delayed deadline to approve the required funding bills is rapidly approaching. Abroad, a violent attack by Hamas on Saturday has led to the outbreak of war between Israel and the Islamist militant group.
“It’s a dangerous game that we’re playing,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told C-SPAN. “It just proves our adversaries right that democracy doesn’t work. Our adversaries are watching us and Israel is watching. They need our help.”
“Israel is going to need an aid package,” he added. But if we don’t have a Speaker we can’t assist Israel.”
The exasperation is clearly reaching a fever pitch within the party. On Thursday Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to the members of his caucus with a clear message: “Meet later today at Conference, lock the door, and not adjourn until we have selected our new Speaker.”
The closed-door vote to nominate Scalise on Wednesday was part of the House GOP’s effort to avoid another 15-vote public catastrophe it took to elect McCarthy in January. It’s unclear whether another floor vote will be called with so many lawmakers stating on the record that they won’t vote for Scalise. What is clear is that despite their best efforts, Republicans can’t help but humiliate themselves.
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