Who is Steve Scalise? The man who gave up the GOP House Speaker nomination

After almost a decade as GOP whip and nine months as majority leader, Scalise battles concerns about his health following 2017 shooting and blood cancer diagnosis as he attempts to become Speaker of the House

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 13 October 2023 07:12 EDT

Related video: House Republicans at odds following historic ousting of Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Steve Scalise, a longtime member of House Republican leadership, fought hard to win the GOP nomination to be Speaker of the House, following the dramatic ousting of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

In a Wednesday morning vote, the Louisiana congressman beat out Jim Jordan to win the nomination by a total of 113-99. Mr Scalise needed to win 217 votes on the House floor to take the speaker’s gavel, meaning he could only lose up to four Republican votes, and multiple members of his caucus had expressed they may still vote for Mr Jordan.

However, in a shock twist on Thursday, Mr Scalise announced that he would be withdrawing his name from the running after failing to secure enough votes. “If you look at where our conference is, there’s still work to be done,” he said. “Our conference still has to come together. And it’s not there.”

Despite serving as House majority leader under Mr McCarthy, the Louisiana Republican has a strained relationship with the Californian. In 2018, Mr Scalise said he was interested in the speakership after the upcoming departure of then-Speaker Paul Ryan if Mr McCarthy couldn’t get the support he needed, with the relationship between the two men subsequently taking a turn for the worse.

The 58-year-old Mr Scalise served in the Louisiana state House and had a very brief tenure in the state Senate before he joined the US House in 2008, picking up Bobby Jindal’s seat when he became governor.

Grabbing the top post of the conservative group known as the Republican Study Committee before becoming majority whip in 2014, he served in that post for almost a decade before becoming majority leader earlier this year.

Mr Scalise and his top rival for the speakership, hardliner Jim Jordan, both voted to back objections to the Electoral College results that certified the victory of President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Addressing colleagues in a letter on 4 October as he outlined his reasons for running for the speakership, Mr Scalise mentioned being shot at a 2017 congressional baseball practice, writing, “I firmly believe this Conference is a family. When I was shot in 2017, it was Members of this Conference who saved my life on that field. When I made it to the hospital and my family was told my chances of surviving were low, it was the prayers from all of you that carried us through”.

Steve Scalise is running for speaker after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy

“You know my leadership style I’ve displayed as your Majority Leader and Whip. I have a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints within our Conference to build consensus where others thought it impossible,” he added.

Mr Scalise was gravely wounded in the shooting that took place as Republicans were practising ahead of a charity game, with the recovery taking months following concerns that he might not make it through.

Ahead of his campaign for speaker, Mr Scalise said in the evening of 3 October that “clearly within our conference, we have a very tight majority. Getting things done is going to be difficult in the tight majority. It still will be so no matter who’s going to be the next speaker, the challenges still remain, but I think the opportunity is there to continue moving forward”.

Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise are the two main candidates for speaker following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy

Mr Scalise announced in August that he was being treated for blood cancer, but he said “I feel great” when responding to questions if he was up to the job of being speaker amid concerns about his health. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, calling it “a very treatable blood cancer”.

In September, he added that his treatment appeared to be going well, saying that the cancer “has dropped dramatically”.

Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican whose motion to vacate led to the booting of Mr McCarthy, praised Mr Scalise when asked about who could be the next speaker.

“I think the world of Steve Scalise, I think he’d make a phenomenal speaker,” he said on 3 October. “He’d be the type of person that I could see myself supporting. There are many people, though.”

Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan bid to fill top job in leaderless US House

While Mr Scalise appears to be the option most likely to be supported by Republican moderates, he faced criticism for giving a speech in 2002 to a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. In 2014, he issued an apology, saying that it “was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold”.

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