On Wednesday, Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise just garnered enough Republican support to become his party’s pick to head the House, but serious disagreements within the G.O.P. ranks threatened to make his election as speaker more difficult.
Mr. Scalise’s future was called into question only minutes after a party gathering in which a majority of Republicans decided to support him as the party’s nominee. Concerned that he would not be able to bring together a divided conference, several Republican lawmakers said they would not support him on the House floor without compromises.
While the party was regrouping on Wednesday afternoon, Republicans postponed an election of the entire House that had been scheduled for that time. There was no indication that the G.O.P. was any closer to an agreement that would allow them to nominate a speaker by the time the House reconvened at noon on Thursday.
The Republicans voted behind closed doors to install Mr. Scalise, their second-ranking leader, as Speaker of the House a week and a day after the historic and sudden expulsion of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the hands of a small right-wing bloc. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who chairs the Judiciary Committee and is a favourite of the far right and who has the support of former President Donald J. Trump, challenged Mr. Scalise, but he declined to step down.
Mr. Scalise clearly does not have enough votes to become speaker at this time, but he still needs to secure a majority on the House floor, where mayhem reigned the last time Republicans sought to pick a speaker.
Mr. Scalise met with some of his critics one-on-one on Wednesday night in an effort to win them over, but it seemed like he was losing support, not gaining it. Mr. Scalise was trying to calm the conflict, but the absence of Republican leadership was feeding it.
During Mr. McCarthy’s agonisingly drawn-out election in January, the policy director of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, Representative Chip Roy of Texas, established what he termed a “power sharing agreement” with Mr. McCarthy and vowed not to vote for Mr. Scalise.
Mr. Roy said following their meeting with Mr. Scalise on Wednesday night that he hoped to hear Mr. Scalise agree to changes in Congress’s procedures that have been advocated by more conservative members of the party.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Jordan said that after his close defeat, he privately visited with Mr. Scalise and offered to nominate him on the House floor, but that he made no public expression of endorsement and his supporters did not seem to be persuaded.
A number of Republicans, including a mainstream lawmaker from a district President Biden won and a prominent committee chairman, were reluctant to endorse Mr. Scalise, further clouding the situation.
The scenario highlighted the enormous difficulty any Republican speaker would confront in dealing with the same forces that rendered Mr. McCarthy’s party unruly. Maintaining a governing majority is challenging due to the party’s razor-thin margin of power and internal disputes. These same forces have bolstered a conservative movement that refuses to work with Democrats in the Senate and the White House.
Since Mr. McCarthy’s removal, the House has been essentially paralysed due to Republican infighting. Legislators were concerned that continuing to function without a duly elected speaker could have dire consequences, such as the chamber’s inability to support Israel in the wake of an invasion by the Palestinian group Hamas that has resulted in over a thousand Israeli deaths and the kidnapping of dozens of hostages.
Mr. Scalise made early gains as Republicans quashed a move to amend party rules for selecting a candidate for speaker, which would have made it more difficult for him to triumph by requiring a public roll call and a higher threshold. It was supposed to be an effort to reduce disruptions on the House floor and prevent a repeat of January,
Mr. Scalise has been a member of Congress since 2008, but he has been forced to start wearing a mask whenever he goes in public due to the rigorous treatment he is receiving for blood cancer. Mr Scalise was shot and critically injured by an anti-Trump radical in 2017 during a congressional baseball game practise. He is still hobbling about.
Mr. McCarthy has excluded Mr. Scalise from all significant decision making over the last year and has privately criticised him to colleagues as inept, tuned out, and unwilling to take positions. Their tense relationship made it harder for Mr. Scalise to win over Republicans in the conference, which was already in disarray.