washington — Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise has been quietly mentioned as a candidate for House speaker during a week-long Republican scramble for the top House job.
Talks continued into Friday, and with the help of members of the Louisiana Republican delegation, intense negotiations finally began to bear fruit.
California’s Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, was elected speaker on Saturday morning’s 15th ballot — the fifth day of voting — after C-Span showed one Republican angrily rushing toward another.
Usually the selection of the Speaker, the top leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, is done in a single vote. Republicans had hoped to avoid public chaos as it charged the first act of the 118th Congress, and some grew nervous as vote after vote failed this week.
In addition to members of Congress speaking privately, Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, Salon and other national outlets on Thursday mentioned Scalise’s name as an alternative.
Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told CNN that Scalise could be a compromise candidate.
But others are skeptical of Scalise. “We need a leadership change, so it’s not a name I like,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of the Rifle community in the Colorado Rockies told MSNBC.
Scalise said in an interview earlier this week that he was aware of the movement that drafted him but did nothing to encourage it.
Members knew that Scalise supported McCarthy. Scalise worked hard to prevent Republicans from nominating him, not even mentioning his name. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s Republican House delegation was openly working on McCarthy’s behalf.
“Obviously, myself and Mike Johnson in elected leadership positions” worked to secure McCarthy’s election, Scalise said, adding that Baton Rouge Rep. Garrett Graves and Lafayette Rep. Clay Higgins was involved in some negotiations.
“We’re all talking about a real debate about changing the way Washington works,” Scalise said.
Over the past 20 years, House leadership has overcome partisan barriers by tackling the most important bills, leaving ordinary people with little to do.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, holds the top spot in the 117th Congress. She “is not going to let Democratic committee chairmen change their own legislation,” Scalise said. “We want to make sure they (MPs) get back to work.”
Unlike the Senate, which assumed the rules of the previous body, the House approves new rules every two years when new representatives take office.
Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus denied that McCarthy supported concessions that wrested leadership away from the operating procedures the House would follow for the next two years.
The negotiations were protracted and heated.
“Part of my job is to get everyone rowing in the same direction,” said Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson of Benton. As vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, Johnson is responsible for coordinating the messaging of the Republican majority. His seat was next to McCarthy for most of the 15 votes.
Johnson resigned from the Freedom Caucus after joining the Republican House leadership. But his politics have been friendly with the hardline conservative group, and he remains friends with the group’s leading figures.
“They trusted me,” Johnson said. “I try to keep the cohesion of the team.”
Johnson and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who once led the Freedom Caucus and whose name is listed as McCarthy’s replacement, visited Israel with his wife in 2020. During meetings with business leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the couple biblically visited important archaeological sites in Israel.
Jordan played a role in lowering the tone during the speech fight so that negotiations could proceed without shouting. He also worked to win the support of members of the Freedom Caucus, quelling fears they would be punished for voting against McCarthy’s speakership, Capitol Hill newspaper Politico reported.
Graves, a friend of McCarthy’s and a member of the speaking team, was instrumental, Johnson said.
Graves could be seen throughout the chamber, holding back members and trying to convince those who couldn’t hold out. He did not respond to multiple requests to discuss his role in the negotiations.
Johnson said Higgins was trying to be a peacemaker.
Higgins sat in the room, praying and reading his Bible. Every now and then, he would talk to the rebels.
With the crisis over, McCarthy as speaker and Scalise as majority leader, House Republicans voted unanimously to approve the new rules Monday night.
“This is my legislation,” Scalise said Tuesday, “to formalize all the negotiations that we’ve been having for weeks, especially last week, to change the way things work in Washington.”