House Majority Leader Representative Steve Scalise at the Capitol.

Steve Scalise seeking to lock up support for speaker job after McCarthy ouster

WASHINGTON — Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who became a national figure after he survived a brutal assassination attempt during a congressional baseball practice, has been 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.

The development isn’t surprising given that Scalise, the No. 2 GOP leader under McCarthy since 2019, is the frontrunner 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.”

Health issues have nagged Scalise ever since a gunman’s bullet tore through his body on a ball field in Alexandria, Va., 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.”

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House Republicans will hold internal, closed-door elections next week to nominate their choice for speaker. But whomever they choose, 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.

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.”

Scott Wong

Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.

Ali Vitali

Ali Vitali is a Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News, based in Washington.

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca is a producer and off-air reporter covering Congress for NBC News, managing coverage of the House.

Garrett Haake and Ryan Noblescontributed.