Republicans nominate Steve Scalise for US House speaker

The Republican pick for speaker used his first remarks to the press to address the Gaza-Israel war

Steve Scalise speaks to the press on Wednesday. EPA
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Republicans on Wednesday picked Steve Scalise as their nominee for speaker of the US House of Representatives, in the next step towards replacing Kevin McCarthy, who was removed last week amid conservative infighting.

Mr Scalise was able to draw the support of many veteran and establishment Republicans. He was competing against Jim Jordan, an outspoken leader of the party's right wing who had the backing of many at the more conservative end of the spectrum.

Currently the No 2 on the Republican leadership ladder, Mr Scalise must still win approval from the full House before he can claim the speaker's gavel. Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority.

Emerging from a committee room where Republicans convened on Wednesday, Mr Scalise used his first remarks since clinching his party's nomination to address the Israel-Gaza war, saying his “first order of business” as speaker would be to bring a bipartisan resolution to stand with Israel to the floor.

“We have a lot of work to do. Not just in the House and for the people of this country, but we see how dangerous of a world it is and how things can change so quickly,” the House Majority Leader told reporters.

“We need to make sure we're sending a message to people all throughout the world, that the House is open and doing the people business … We will make it clear that we stand with Israel.”

In another display of a divided government, Mr Scalise criticised the Democrat-controlled Senate for stalling legislation approved by the Republican-controlled chamber.

“The Senate has to start doing their work. And, by the way, in that legislation, including the defence appropriations bill, includes funding for Israel things like the Iron Dome, precision-guided missiles, things that can be used today to help them in this war.”

The House Majority Leader represents Louisiana's first congressional district and has served in Congress since 2008. Before that, he was a member of the Louisiana state legislature.

Mr Scalise has voiced support in the past for former president Donald Trump. He is also a strong opponent of gun control and universal health care.

The removal of Mr McCarthy was an unprecedented move and created a power vacuum in the divided Republican chamber. He had served less than one year in the job, managing challenges from hardline Republicans amid a narrow party majority control of the chamber after last year's midterm elections.

Applause was heard from committee meeting rooms on Wednesday as Republicans reached a narrow consensus on who to endorse for the speakership.

Republican Tim Burchett, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a detractor of former speaker Mr McCarthy, told reporters that “Steve will do a fine job” and that he believed the party would come together around him.

When asked if Mr Jordan agreed that the party must reach a full consensus, Mr Burchett said “more or less”.

But Thomas Massie, a supporter of Mr Jordan, cast doubt that the party had really achieved unity.

“That was the inside race and now the outside race starts. That was the secret ballot and now comes the recorded ballot,” Mr Massie told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“You'll probably have some Jordan supporters who just want it to be over, and they'll convert to Scalise. But if there's a large number of people who vote for Jim Jordan on the floor, you may have some people who privately voted for Scalise but publicly won't do that.”

Mr Burchett told reporters that the interim speaker would give representatives one hour's notice before an official vote, but it is still unclear how soon that will happen.

Updated: October 11, 2023, 7:04 PM