WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana secured the Republican nomination for speaker of the House and quickly won over some of the eight rebels who voted last week to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., but many GOP lawmakers say he would largely be a continuation of his predecessor.
Scalise shares McCarthy’s vision, most Republican House members say, on policy fights like spending and on strategy like the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
“The personalities involved are different,” Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said in an interview Wednesday, referring to Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led the effort to oust McCarthy and had been his chief antagonist for months.
Scalise, if he is elected speaker, will inherit the same narrow Republican majority that must deal with a Senate and a White House controlled by Democrats.
While Scalise had been McCarthy’s No. 2 since 2019, and while the two have acted in concert in dozens of legislative battles, the relationship grew chilly and rocky at times.
Garcia said the approach Scalise pitched to the Republican conference about government funding, the biggest task facing Congress, resembles the path the House has already been on.
“What he outlined is similar to what we were in the midst of doing, which is: Bring the single-subject appropriation bills to the floor and then force the Senate to engage,” Garcia said. “So I think it’s a similar strategy.”
He added: “This isn’t a McCarthy-Gaetz issue anymore. So I think Scalise has better odds of being successful.”
Asked to name the ways Scalise would be an upgrade over McCarthy, Gaetz offered no specifics.
“All of them,” he said.
“There’s a renewed excitement,” he added, expressing his support for Scalise. “We’ve got the legend from Louisiana who’s going to lead us. And I think that he’ll be invigorating to our activists. I think he’ll be a great communicator to the country. And I think he’ll do a great job uniting the Republican conference.”
After Republicans voted to nominate him, Scalise said his “first order of business” would be to pass a bipartisan resolution supporting Israel in the wake of the terrorist attack by Hamas, which McCarthy said this week he would have put to a vote if he were speaker. He said he will “be calling on President Biden to sit down and talk about the crisis at the border,” a topic that was a high priority for McCarthy during his time as speaker.
And multiple GOP lawmakers said the House’s impeachment inquiry into Biden will continue under Scalise, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whom Scalise defeated for the speaker’s nomination, remaining as one of the top investigators.
“Under Scalise I don’t think — from a platform or paradigm perspective — any of that changes,” Garcia said of the inquiry.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., said she wants to defund special counsel Jack Smith, who has secured federal indictments of former President Donald Trump, and hold impeachment votes on the floor. She said she discussed her goals with Scalise and came away “confident” that she will be able to “aggressively do my job” if he becomes speaker, without discussing any specific commitments he may have made.
The continuity is natural in a majority where 96% of members voted last week to preserve McCarthy’s speakership. Eight defections were enough to evict him, because of paper-thin margins and Democrats’ rallying behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., for the job.
It’s unclear when the House will vote on a new speaker after it adjourned Wednesday without setting a time. Scalise will need at least 217 of the 221 Republicans to secure the position unless absences shift the threshold.
“There’s a lot of busy work to do, a lot of important work to do on behalf of people who are struggling,” Scalise told reporters. “We’re going to provide that vision.”
Some Republicans say Scalise would be a continuation of McCarthy’s approach — and they don’t mean that as a compliment.
“I think the conference had a chance to give the country hope that we were going to bring much-needed change, and instead the conference voted for status quo,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who wasn’t ready to support Scalise. “Mr. Scalise has obviously been part of our leadership team for many years. So it’s hard to envision that he will be a change agent.”
‘Steve is somebody that can unify’
Behind closed doors Tuesday night, Scalise told Republicans he wants to pass 85% of the appropriations bills through the House within his first two weeks as speaker, two lawmakers in the room said. That would continue the approach of McCarthy, who had been steering funding bills through the House that violate a two-year bipartisan budget deal struck in May and advance a host of conservative priorities but have no chance of passing the Senate.
“I do think Steve is somebody that can unify. And that’s been his trademark. And so I’m willing to give him the benefit to pull it together,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.
Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, said Scalise and McCarthy have much in common, as do Scalise and Jordan.
“Even with Jim — I mean, the differences between Jim and Steve ideologically, you’re splitting hairs at that point. There’s not a lot of daylight, if any, between them,” Fallon said. “I heard their arguments when they gave their five minutes and then 90 minutes of questions. I didn’t hear a lot of policy differences, quite frankly. … They both want to get the [appropriations] bills passed. They both want regular order with a lot of member input.”
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., who voted to evict McCarthy, declined to compare him and Scalise when he was asked how the two are different.
“I don’t know,” said Burchett, who pivoted to praising Scalise and saying he’ll support him for speaker. “I’ll just say the positives about Steve. He understands fiscal conservativism. He has a track record of handling tough legislation in the past. And I think that’s going to serve him very well in the trenches.”
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a conservative who initially opposed McCarthy but came around after he won concessions, said it was a “mistake” for Scalise to oppose his new rule to require the caucus to get 217 votes for a speaker before any votes are cast on the floor.
“We shouldn’t have walked away from that process, which was bringing us together, to figure out how we were going to get united before we went to the floor,” Roy told reporters. “So we did. And so now we’ve got to go figure it out.”
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.
Garrett Haake and Ali Vitalicontributed.