WASHINGTON ― Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) are the first Republicans to declare their candidacies for speaker of the House after the shocking ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday.
Both men asked their Republican colleagues for support on Wednesday in letters lambasting federal spending and the supposed persecution of former President Donald Trump.
Scalise and Jordan are well-respected by their colleagues, though Jordan is best known as a combative defender of Trump, which could turn off moderates. In recent weeks, lawmakers have mentioned both as possible replacements for McCarthy.
Scalise has served as majority leader, McCarthy’s top lieutenant. Jordan chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where he has led Republicans in their campaign against the phantom “weaponization of government” by President Joe Biden against his political opponents.
Jordan, Scalise and other possible leadership candidates, including Reps. Kevin Hern (Okla.) and Tom Emmer (Minn.), addressed a meeting of the 27 Texas Republicans serving in the House.
Hern said after the meeting that he was trying to gauge the amount of support he has among his colleagues before actually seeking the speaker’s gavel. Emmer is reportedly looking to move up the leadership ranks from his current position as whip, or vote counter.
Jordan and Scalise did not say in their letters how they might manage the fractious Republican conference. Following his talk with the Texas delegation, Jordan said his strategy for running the House would be to unify Republicans around conservative legislation, send bills to the Senate, and then hash out differences between the Senate and House versions of legislation. “Take our bills,” Jordan said.
But that’s what McCarthy tried to do all year, and it didn’t work out. Last week, House Republicans could not coalesce around a government funding bill that would have severely cut discretionary spending, even though the measure was solely designed to unify the conference and force the Senate into a negotiation. Instead, the House sent nothing to the Senate.
A small number of far-right lawmakers then forced McCarthy out after he kept the federal government open by passing a bill with Democratic votes ― a cardinal sin to the anti-McCarthy faction even though there’s no other way to keep the government open since the Senate, a coequal partner in the legislative process, is controlled by Democrats.
McCarthy won the speakership partly by making promises to his colleagues and agreeing to change House rules so that a single lawmaker could trigger a snap no-confidence vote in his speakership. That’s how Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) initiated McCarthy’s downfall this week.
“I do not think, regardless of who the speaker is, that you should have that rule,” McCarthy said after his ouster.
Several rank-and-file Republicans have echoed McCarthy’s call to reform the so-called “motion to vacate” rule. On Wednesday, the Republican Main Street Caucus, a group of 68 House Republicans, declared that any speaker candidate “must explain to us how what happened on Tuesday will never happen again.”
Jordan and Hern were noncommittal when reporters asked for their thoughts on a rule change. So was Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who championed the single-member motion to vacate rule in January.
“I think it would be a mistake for us to get mired in a rules debate when we need a speaker and we need to cut spending and we need to secure the border and we need to deal with Ukraine,” Roy said.
Republicans have said they will hold their election for speaker next week.