Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that he will support whichever candidate for speaker gets the Republican GOP conference’s support, after urging his supporters in the conference not to nominate him for speaker.
Asked who he would vote for while standing outside the party’s candidate forum, McCarthy told reporters, “whoever comes out of there.”
McCarthy again declined to endorse in the race between House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan to succeed him as speaker. But he tamped down earlier speculation this week that he could be renominated, which had prompted some of his allies to discuss nominating him again.
He said Tuesday that he told his allies in the room not to nominate him for speaker during the GOP candidate forum. “I know a lot of them want to nominate me. I told them, ‘Please do not nominate me,” he said. “There are two people running in there. I’m not one of them.”
The House GOP conference is hearing from Scalise of Louisiana and Jordan of Ohio, the only two declared speaker candidates so far, at a candidate forum Tuesday evening, with hopes of voting for a new speaker later this week. But Republican lawmakers remain bitterly divided over who should lead the party.
Entering the meeting Tuesday, Scalise said he was confident that Republicans will begin voting Wednesday to elect a new speaker, arguing that they “need to get Congress back to work.”
“We’re going to do that tomorrow,” he said. “We’re going to elect a new speaker and get back to work for the American people. There’s a lot of work to do.”
McCarthy said that he only expected two members to be nominated, and that how they deal with the eight Republicans who voted to oust him will determine whether House Republicans are able to govern going forward.
“It’s more than selecting a speaker. If this conference continues to allow 4% of the conference to partner with Democrats when 96% of the conference wants something else, they will never lead,” McCarthy said.
Asked whether they could vote on a speaker this week, he said, “I expect there to be a vote and elect a new speaker this week.”
Some allies to Scalise saw McCarthy’s maneuvering heading into the speaker’s vote this week as designed to hobble Scalise’s bid for speaker, which has heightened tension between their camps.
McCarthy and Scalise have maintained a cordial working relationship over the years but have long been seen as potential rivals. Scalise considered challenging McCarthy for leader in 2018, and this year, McCarthy tapped his trusted allies Reps. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Garret Graves of Louisiana – not his top leadership deputies – to help him with his January speaker’s bid, the debt ceiling crisis and government funding deadline.
McHenry is now serving as interim speaker.
On Monday night, the conference gathered for the first time since last week’s historic vote to oust McCarthy, but the two-hour session left them no closer toward coalescing around a speaker nominee and a path forward as they debated potential rules changes and grapple with the raw feelings lingering after the unprecedented events of last week.
While the impetus on Republicans to pick a new speaker escalated after the terrorist attack in Israel over the weekend, the House GOP conference remains bitterly divided over how it should proceed – and who can get the 217 votes needed to lead it.
Republicans are preparing for the prospect that neither Scalise nor Jordan can get the votes to be elected speaker, leaving the conference with no clear path forward. They’re also divided over the rules that the conference will use to elect a new speaker – while hoping to avoid the embarrassment of the 15-vote marathon that played out for McCarthy in January.
The Monday session also gave lawmakers the chance to vent about the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy and left the House speakerless. GOP lawmakers made clear their emotions are still raw, and it will take ample time to find consensus after the unprecedented events of last week.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin told CNN he wasn’t ready to back a candidate. “I’m not backing anyone, until we deal with the fact that we have people in our conference who could shut this House down on a whim again,” he said.
GOP Rep. Max Miller of Ohio called for an extra week for the House GOP to coalesce around a nominee for speaker and said that people in the room were “broken” while leaving the closed-door meeting Monday night.
Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, a senior GOP appropriator, likened the conference to a “scattergram.”
“Pretty good discussion, a lot of opinions; we’re kind of like a scattergram – we’re all over the map in terms of the way forward,” Womack said. “Some of it about rules changes, some of it about, you know, hard feelings about what happened on Tuesday and wanting to go back and revisit that.”
Neither Scalise nor Jordan spoke at the meeting. McCarthy, who on Monday would not rule out that he could be renominated to be speaker if no consensus can be found, did not attend.
But some of the Republicans who voted out McCarthy made clear Monday they aren’t backing down. Rep. Cory Mills, a Florida Republican backing Jordan, shot down the idea that McCarthy could emerge.
“One of the things that we discussed today is the only people who can actually be considered (are) those who’ve already announced their nomination,” he said.
In addition to the race between Scalise and Jordan, the conference is also divided over how the speaker nomination process would work, which would have major implications for who would be able to prevail.
A proposal, drafted by Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, would require a lawmaker to secure a majority of the entire House – not just a majority of their conference – to secure the party’s nomination for speaker, a key change intended to ensure the nominee has the necessary support before they move to a floor vote.
Jordan and many of his allies are backing the proposal. But Scalise allies, who believe he can secure a majority of the conference but acknowledge he won’t get 217 votes on the first ballot, are against the move.
In some corners of the conference, there was a push to quickly settle on a speaker. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul called for a new speaker by Wednesday to avoid appearances of weakness and dysfunction amid war in Israel.
Until a new speaker is selected, the House can’t pass legislation to address the crisis, McCaul noted.
“We need to get a speaker by Wednesday, and the first bill on the floor is going to be my resolution condemning Hamas for these terrorist attacks in Israel,” he said.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.