It’s not clear that Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican, would be able to win votes for speaker any more readily than Kevin McCarthy. But he is seen by many members of his party as the most obvious backup.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have “>10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
Give this articleGive this articleGive this article
Representative-elect Kevin McCarthy, right, shakes hands with Representative-elect Steve Scalise during one of the votes on the House speakership on Tuesday.
As Congress slogged through its third day of paralysis and into its eighth vote for speaker, there was one man trying hard to avoid being part of the story even as he sat closer and closer to the middle of it: Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican in the House.
Mr. Scalise, deeply conservative and always on message, is seen by many members of his conference as the most obvious backup to turn to if Mr. McCarthy cannot put together the votes to become speaker and is, eventually, encouraged by his colleagues to drop out.
Mr. Scalise is backing Mr. McCarthy and has been careful not to take any action that could be construed as undermining him. But he has done little to publicly demonstrate his support besides giving one of the so far eight nominating speeches.
It’s not clear that Mr. Scalise would be able to get the majority to become speaker any more readily than Mr. McCarthy. He has some of the same problems with the party’s hard-right flank as the California Republican does, in part because as whip he has at times staked out neutral or mainstream positions when his colleagues have gone the other way.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, for instance, was livid with Mr. Scalise after he could be heard in a leaked audio tape from a conversation after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol suggesting that Mr. Gaetz’s actions that day were “potentially illegal.” In response, Mr. Gaetz called both Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Scalise “weak men.”
But there is not as much personal animus toward him among House Republicans as there is toward Mr. McCarthy. Democrats regard him as a known entity and one of the few top Republicans who can be dealt with in a conference they see as increasingly unreasonable and extreme.
Mr. Scalise has been a Republican fixture in Congress since he was elected in 2008, and has for the most part quietly ascended the leadership ranks. Mr. Scalise and Mr. McCarthy, both ambitious politicians, had long-simmering tensions that in recent years have cooled.
Mr. Scalise in 2014 faced calls for his resignation and had to apologize for making a speech earlier in his career to a well-known white supremacist group. At the time, he apologized and said that when he appeared before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization in 2002, he did not know the group’s racist nature. Republican leadership at the time stood by him, while Democrats questioned how he could not have known about the organization’s background.
Mr. Scalise is perhaps best known for suffering major injuries in a shooting in 2017, when he was shot by a gunman during practice for a charity baseball game. When he returned to Congress three months after the shooting, Mr. Scalise was lauded by Democrats and Republicans alike for the resilience he showed through a difficult recovery.
“I’m definitely a living example that miracles really do happen,” he told his colleagues at the time.
Quietly emerging as the consensus candidate may be one of them.