House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced Thursday evening he’s dropping out as a candidate for speaker of the House, just a day after winning the Republican nomination.
“It’s been quite a journey, and there’s still a long way to go. I just shared with my colleagues that I’m withdrawing my name as a candidate for speaker-designee,” Mr. Scalise told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“Our conference still has to come together, and it’s not there,” he added. “There are still some people that have their own agendas. And I was very clear we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs.”
Reacting to the news, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said Mr. Scalise’s decision to drop out “does not surprise me,” based on “the number of people since yesterday” who said they were a “hard no” on his candidacy.
The next best candidate, Mr. Norman said, would be Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who lost to Mr. Scalise in a secret ballot by 113–98 on Wednesday.
Mr. Jordan had encouraged his supporters to back Mr. Scalise, but a number of them said they’d carry the fight to the House floor.
“I voted for [Jordan] in the first round,” Mr. Norman said, expressing his confidence that Mr. Jordan can get the 217 needed to become speaker.
“The country loves Jim Jordan,” he added. “He’s a great spokesman.”
Mr. Norman also expressed the urgency of resolving the House leadership problem, citing the conflict in Israel. “We don’t want to drag this thing out,” he said. “Now it’s time to come to some conclusion.”
Mr. Scalise tried to win over holdouts during closed-door meetings with members of the GOP conference on Thursday to address their lingering concerns. Those concerns have revolved around his health as he fights a form of cancer; his leadership history during a time when the national debt grew rapidly; and his speaking to a white supremacist group in 2002.
Mr. Scalise has said that he didn’t know the group’s affiliation before accepting the invitation.
Responding to the news, other Republicans praised Mr. Scalise, describing his decision as “classy” and selfless. Some also threw their support behind Mr. Jordan.
Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) took to X, formerly Twitter, to call Mr. Scalise “an American hero.”
“He was almost killed but God kept him here for a higher purpose. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way,” he wrote.
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) thanked Mr. Scalise for his “diligence and hard work” and contributions to Congress.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) called Mr. Scalise’s decision a selfless act and urged her GOP colleagues to return to Washington to resolve the speakership issue.
“Members of the GOP MUST return to Washington so that we can nominate a Speaker. In an act of statesmanship, Scalise selflessly has stepped aside. This needs to happen,” she wrote on X.
Replying to her post, Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) said Republicans “already did that.”
“Jim Jordan was a true statesman as well and backed the nominee, but that wasn’t good enough either,” Mr. Collins wrote on X. “We keep returning to Washington. Being here ain’t the problem. It’s egos and TV time. Hell, we can do that from anywhere.”
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) described Mr. Scalise as “classy” for withdrawing his candidacy.
Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) said that he’s one of a number of members who are now backing Mr. Jordan.
On Wednesday, Mr. Scalise narrowly won the candidacy over Mr. Jordan in a secret ballot, the results of which indicated that he would struggle to get the 217 votes needed on the House floor.
Next Steps: ‘Back to Square One’
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said the GOP conference was “back to square one,” and predicted that a speaker wouldn’t be chosen on Friday.
He rejected the idea of giving more power temporarily to Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who serves as House speaker pro tempore, describing it as a “quasi-constitutional” road that he doesn’t want to go down.
“Let’s get our act together,” Mr. Waltz said. “We can do it.”
Some Republicans are having “an academic debate” about whether supporting Mr. Jordan would reward “the tyranny of the minority” who ousted former speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), according to Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.).
Mr. Garcia expressed some doubt about Mr. Jordan’s ability to get the numbers he needs to secure the role.
“I think we owe it to him. We owe it to the party to let that run its course,” he added. “I like Jim Jordan. I would support Jim Jordan. I will support Jim Jordan tomorrow. But like I said, he’s got a math problem.”
Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) said Mr. Jordan “deserves a shot” to get the 217 votes he needs while expressing the urgency of resolving the leadership void.
“We need to elect a speaker. I supported Steve Scalise, but if Jim Jordan wants to try to get the 217, I’m going to support him because we need to get this process completed and start doing the business of the American people again,” Mr. Barr said.
Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) also threw his support behind Mr. Jordan, saying he’d do an “excellent job” as speaker and leading the GOP conference. He also expressed his openness to other members identifying themselves as potential candidates.
The House has been without a leader for 10 days, with many Republicans expressing frustration over the delay and urging colleagues to resolve the matter quickly.
Mr. Scalise stated on Thursday: “We have to put our agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs,” adding, “This country is counting on us to come back together.”
“This House of Representatives needs a speaker and we need to open up the House again. But clearly, not everybody is there and there’s still schisms that have to get resolved.”
The House GOP conference will resume at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Ryusuke Abe contributed to this report.