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The withdrawal of Scalise, Republican candidate for House speaker, plunges the party into chaos

The Louisiana representative, who had narrowly won the nomination to succeed Kevin McCarthy as speaker, abandons his efforts due to lack of support

Steve Scalise
Steve Scalise announces to the press that he is giving up running for the position of speaker of the House of Representatives, this Wednesday in Washington.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (REUTERS)

The Republican Party — and with it, the U.S. House of Representatives and the country itself — became a little more ungovernable Thursday night with the resignation of Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise in his race to become House speaker, a post in which he aspired to succeed Kevin McCarthy, defiantly ousted last week by the motion of Matt Gaetz, one of his own.

Scalise had defeated Jim Jordan (Ohio) on Wednesday in an internal party vote by a margin (113-99) that ultimately proved too slim. Since then, the Congressman tried to convince his fellow Republicans behind the scenes to support him before calling for a floor vote, in which he was counting on the Democrats to speak out against him. He needed 217 yeses among the 222 seats that the conservative party has in the House of Representatives. In the end, it appears Scalise gave up his candidacy stood down from the race because he was unable to secure the votes.

Several Republicans with a high media profiles, such as George Santos (New York) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), had announced that they would not support him. In view of the fact that he did not have the numbers, the Congressman, who announced in August that he was suffering from multiple myeloma for which he is being treated with chemotherapy, set aside at the end of the day his aspirations to occupy the post of the third-highest authority in the country and second in line for the presidency.

Until October 3, Scalise was Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives. He was also second to McCarthy, who was speaker for only nine months after his election last January, when it took him 15 votes to overcome resistance from the hard-line wing of his party. Gaetz, one of its most conspicuous members, last week promoted a motion to vacate to wrest the speaker’s gavel from him. He was supported in his destabilizing mission by seven other Republicans and all the Democrats (208) present that day on the floor. It was a historic day: never in the 234 years of the Capitol had the chair of Speaker of the House of Representatives been vacant.

That vote plunged Capitol Hill into chaos and the United States into legislative paralysis. The House cannot approve new military aid for Israel. In this context, the attack by Hamas on Israel has added further pressure to the institutional crisis in Washington. Congress can do nothing, not even the most symbolic of gestures, until a speaker is elected. Funding for Ukraine is also frozen. Meanwhile, November 17 — the date when the temporary spending bill will expire — is fast approaching. That stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown cost McCarthy his job.

“Nobody’s going to use me as an excuse to hold back our ability to get the House opened again,” Scalise told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday night after he announced he was dropping out of the race. Asked if he planned to endorse Jordan as a candidate for speaker, Scalise said: “I cut no deals with anybody.” “There will be a lot of people that look at it [running for House speaker], but it’s got to be people that aren’t doing it for themselves and their own personal interests,” he added.

When announcing his decision to withdraw, Scalise made reference to the fact that the Republican Party remains deeply divided. In a letter he sent to colleagues, he wrote: “Our conference still has to come together and is not there. There are still some people with their own agendas. And I was very clear. We have to have everyone put their agendas on the side and focus on what the country needs. This country is counting on us to come back together. This House of Representatives needs a Speaker and we need to open up the House again. But clearly, not everybody is there, and there [are] still schisms that have to get resolved.”

In 2017, the thwarted speaker hopeful starred in a tragic chapter in Washington’s history of political infamy when he was shot by a fanatic who opened fire on several members of Congress who were participating in a league baseball game that pits sports-loving lawmakers against each other each year. It took him months to recover from his injuries.

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