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Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan running for House speaker as GOP race to replace McCarthy kicks off

Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan to run for House speaker
Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan to run for House speaker 03:06

Washington — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and fellow Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio announced Wednesday that they will each run for speaker of the House, becoming the first two candidates in the race to replace Kevin McCarthy after his unprecedented ouster.

The race sets up a showdown that will test the abilities of both men to build support from a majority of the House GOP conference, the divides among which have been on display this year as Republican leaders navigated a narrow four-vote majority.

In separate letters to their fellow GOP lawmakers asking for support, both Jordan and Scalise pitched themselves as unifiers who can build on the party's efforts to push back against the Biden administration's policies and advance a conservative agenda. 

Jordan, who is the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, jumped into the race first, telling reporters on Capitol Hill that support for his bid for the gavel appears "strong" based on the messages he's received from fellow House Republicans. He said the key priority for the next speaker is to unite the highly fractured GOP conference.

"I've had a lot of people reach out to us, asking me to do it, because they think we can," he said. "We'll see if that happens, but I think I can."

He wrote to his GOP colleagues in a letter Wednesday, in which he praised the work House Republicans have done so far this Congress but said more has to be done.

"We are at a critical crossroad in our nation's history. Now is the time for our Republican conference to come together to keep our promises to Americans," Jordan wrote. "The problems we face are challenging, but they are not insurmountable. We can focus on the changes that improve the country and unite us in offering real solutions. But no matter what we do, we must do it together as a conference. I respectfully ask for your support for Speaker of the House of Representatives."

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2023.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2023.  SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Jordan touted his legislative work on immigration and conducting oversight of the Biden administration, as well as his record of calling for cuts to government spending throughout his legislative career. 

"The Republican majority must continue to address the issues that matter to the American people," he wrote.

Scalise, who has climbed the ranks of House GOP leadership throughout his tenure in Congress, said in his own pitch to his GOP colleagues that he has a "proven track record" of building consensus among the various factions of the party.

"As I face new challenges, I feel even more strongly about that today," he wrote in a letter announcing his bid for speaker. "I know the coming weeks ahead will be some of the most arduous times we will face together, but this Conference is worth fighting for — we cannot lose sight of our shared mission. Now, more than ever, we must mend the deep wounds that exist within our Conference and focus on our objectives so we can get back to work for the millions of people who are counting on us."

Asked about Scalise and Jordan running for his old post, McCarthy responded, "They're two good friends. Both would do great jobs." 

Who is Jim Jordan?

Jordan, known as a conservative firebrand, indicated that he would be open to seeking the speaker's gavel shortly after McCarthy told House Republicans he would not try to regain his position atop the lower chamber. Asked if he would run Tuesday, Jordan told reporters, "that's a decision for the conference." House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Rep. Kevin Hern, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, could also jump into the speaker's race.

The Ohio Republican, who has served in Congress since 2007, currently leads the Judiciary Committee and its Weaponization of the Federal Government Select Subcommittee, which was created after Republicans took control of the House in January. Through his position as chair of the Judiciary panel, he is one of the Republicans leading the House's impeachment inquiry into President Biden, which McCarthy announced last month.

A founding member and leader of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, Jordan has in the past served as a thorn in the side of GOP leadership. Former House Speaker John Boehner once called him a "legislative terrorist." He mounted a bid for House speaker in 2018 after then-Speaker Paul Ryan said he wouldn't run for another term, but was not expected to garner support from a majority of Republicans. Democrats ended up winning control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections, and McCarthy was elected minority leader by the GOP conference. 

Though Jordan and fellow conservatives often sparred with Boehner, Jordan became an ally of McCarthy's. He spoke in support of McCarthy's candidacy for speaker in January and defended the embattled California Republican on Tuesday before the vote to remove him.

Jordan emerged as a possible alternative candidate for speaker at the start of the new Congress in January, garnering a handful of votes from conservative lawmakers who opposed McCarthy during more than a dozen rounds of voting.

It's unclear whether Jordan can garner the level of support needed from the Republican conference to claim the gavel, especially from the House's moderate wing. Given the GOP's narrow majority, opposition to his bid from five Republicans during the formal vote on the House floor could sink Jordan's candidacy. But some conservatives have already lined up behind Jordan, including Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mike Carey of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana, who is running for the Senate.

Who is Steve Scalise?

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise listens during a press conference at the Capitol on July 18, 2023.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise listens during a press conference at the Capitol on July 18, 2023. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Scalise is currently the second-ranking Republican in the House as its majority leader. If he wins the gavel, it would set off changes within the GOP leadership ranks, since the position of majority leader would be vacant. His decision to run for speaker has already prompted two members of GOP leadership to announce their plans to seek higher posts.

Elected to Congress in 2008, Scalise represents Louisiana's 1st Congressional District. He served as majority and minority whip before he was tapped by his colleagues for the No. 2 position for the 118th Congress. 

Scalise survived a near-fatal shooting in 2017, when an Illinois man opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. The Louisiana Republican credited his fellow GOP lawmakers with saving his life and motivating him during his recovery in the letter announcing his candidacy for speaker.

"God already gave me another chance at life," he wrote. "I believe we were all put here for a purpose. This next chapter won't be easy, but I know what it takes to fight and I am prepared for the battles that lie ahead. I humbly ask you for your support on this mission to be your Speaker of the House."

Scalise is running for speaker while he undergoes treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. The majority leader announced the diagnosis in August and said it is "very treatable." He is expected to undergo treatment for "several months."

The majority whip has support from at least one current member of GOP leadership. Majority Whip Tom Emmer told reporters Tuesday that Scalise "would be a great speaker." Emmer confirmed to CBS News he is running for majority leader.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who unilaterally forced the vote to remove McCarthy, indicated to reporters earlier this week that Scalise could be a good candidate to fill the vacant speaker seat.

"I think very highly of Steve Scalise. I would vote for Steve Scalise," he said after filing his motion to vacate. "I would probably vote for at least 100 Republicans in our caucus and maybe 100 other Americans out there who wouldn't necessarily need to be a member of the body to be considered for the speakership."

Gaetz said he wouldn't "pass over" Scalise because of his blood cancer diagnosis and ongoing treatment.

Ellis Kim and Jaala Brown contributed to this report.

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