In a closed-door meeting Wednesday, U.S. House Republicans narrowly chose Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) as their nominee for the next speaker of the House by a vote of 113-99. But with the Republican caucus still sharply divided after the recent ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, it’s not clear when the House will hold a floor vote on Scalise’s bid to lead the chamber.
Rep. Steve Womack of Northwest Arkansas has rallied fellow Republicans to support Scalise, the House majority leader, over his chief rival for the position, hard right Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
“He’s a uniter and I think he will do a great job as speaker when he is finally seated,” Womack said outside the speaker’s office Wednesday afternoon. “I think he will help move this conference in the direction where we need to go.”
A vote on the House floor was scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday to elect a new speaker, but the chamber was placed in recess by interim speaker Patrick McHenry, (R-N.C.), right after he began the session.
Womack said he hoped a vote would take place Wednesday as scheduled, but he wasn’t certain it was possible given the division.
“My gut feeling tells me that it will be tomorrow,” said Womack, considering the narrow margin on the closed-door vote.
“I do think there is going to be some homework that needs to be done to shore up the votes,” he said.
Arkansas’s other three congressmen, all Republicans, have so far remained quiet about whether they’ll support Scalise. As they walked into the private meeting Wednesday morning, Reps. Rick Crawford and Bruce Westerman told the Arkansas Times that they knew who they planned to vote for Wednesday morning, but declined to say. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock wasn’t yet ready to make a statement, according to his communications director.
Last Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) became the first speaker in history to be ousted from the office when eight Republicans joined with House Democrats in supporting his removal, with a final vote of 216-210. Womack presided over the House when McCarthy was voted out.
All four members of Arkansas’s House delegation voted against the motion to vacate the speakership and released public statements criticizing McCarthy’s removal.
In his statement after McCarthy’s ouster, Crawford said Republicans needed to unify around a nominee to advance conservative policies. Hill and Westerman emphasized the need for the party to unify around a speaker to continue work on funding the government and avoiding a shutdown before an approaching Nov. 15 deadline. “We need to be moving appropriations bills,” Womack said. “That’s where my single, solitary focus is right now.”
House Republicans hold only a slim majority over Democrats, 221-212, so any Republican nominee cannot lose more than eight Republican votes to win the gavel. It took Kevin McCarthy 15 rounds of voting on the House floor to secure the speakership in January.
Jordan, the founder of the House Freedom Caucus, has offered to nominate Scalise on the floor when the time comes to show unity among Republicans. But he still remains the top pick for some conservative members.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told reporters this afternoon that he would not support Scalise on the first ballot and advocated on behalf of Jordan’s candidacy.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said the goal of House Republicans is to elect Scalise in one vote, rather than repeating the spectacle of the multiple rounds of ballots with McCarthy in January. “I think that’s probably why we are not having the vote immediately,” he said.