WASHINGTON — Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who became a national figure after he survived a brutal assassination attempt during a congressional baseball practice, announced Wednesday he will seek to be the next House speaker.
“When I was in the hospital for nearly 15 weeks, it was the possibility of getting back to work with all of you that kept me motivated to get better,” Scalise wrote in a letter to Republicans. “During that time, I was often asked why after nearly losing my life because of this job I would want to go back. But it was never a question for me: I love this country, and I believe we were sent here to come together and solve the immense challenges we face.”
On Wednesday morning, he was making calls seeking to shore up support for a bid to succeed ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy, according to two lawmakers who have spoken with Scalise.
Scalise on Wednesday morning huddled privately with members of the 25-person Texas GOP delegation — the largest in the Republican Conference.
“Texans, like the rest of our conference, we all have strong passions about getting our border secure, about getting spending under control, about fighting for families who are struggling,” Scalise said leaving the meeting. “That’s what this has been about, and that’s what we just talked about.”
Scalise said he is “listening to a lot of members and having a lot of really good conversation about how we keep focusing on the things we need to do to get our country back on track.”
The developments aren’t surprising given that Scalise, the No. 2 GOP leader under McCarthy since 2019, is the front-runner in the race for speaker and has eyed the top job for years.
But the fact that Scalise, who has represented his Louisiana district since 2008, began reaching out to GOP colleagues so soon after McCarthy’s ouster suggests he is trying to box out other would-be challengers and be seen as the inevitable successor to McCarthy. The No. 3 leader, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., practically endorsed Scalise moments after McCarthy informed Republicans he would step aside after being removed.
And Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led the effort to overthrow McCarthy, has repeatedly put Scalise’s name forward, saying after Tuesday’s stunning vote that the majority leader is “the type of person that I could see myself supporting.”
Asked about Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, officially jumping into the speaker’s race Wednesday, Scalise replied: “I’m sure a lot of people are going to look at this, as they should. This is really important that we get this right.”
Scalise’s moves are already being met with some backlash. One member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus suggested that Scalise would be no different than McCarthy as speaker.
“Since conservatives are concerned about the poor scheduling of appropriations bills this year, why would we elevate the person in charge of the schedule, the majority leader, to speaker?” the lawmaker asked.
Health issues have nagged Scalise ever since a gunman’s bullet tore through his body on a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 14, 2017. In August, Scalise announced that doctors had diagnosed him with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
But asked after Tuesday’s historic vote if he feels up to the job, Scalise replied that he “feels great” and that he enjoys working with Emmer and the leadership team.
“We have a really tight relationship, and we have a lot of work to get done,” Scalise said. “But I haven’t made any formal announcement.”
House Republicans will hold a candidate forum and internal, closed-door election next week to nominate their choice for speaker. But whoever is chosen, that person, like McCarthy before them, will still need to secure 217 votes, a simple majority of the House, to be elected speaker on the House floor.
Despite Scalise’s early moves, it could be a crowded race. Jordan on Wednesday became the first Republican to formally announce a bid for speaker.
And Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., chair of the largest caucus of conservatives on Capitol Hill, the Republican Study Committee, is also acting like he is a candidate for speaker, saying on Newsmax on Tuesday night that the American people “want real results and I believe I can deliver those if the people up here want to put me in that place.”
Many Republicans, furious at how McCarthy was removed by a vote of just eight Republicans and all 208 Democrats, say the House rules must be changed before a new speaker is selected or else it will happen again.
“This won’t be a coronation,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., a McCarthy ally. “If we don’t change the rules, it’ll be the same clown car with a different driver.”