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Republicans Choose a New Speaker Nominee, Then Quickly Undercut Him


Republicans used to consider themselves the orderly party, the one that assiduously adhered to the rules and respected the will of the majority. But the traditional rule book has been thrown out the window when it comes to the extraordinary tumult in the House.

In what would have been unthinkable in the past, numerous House Republicans on Wednesday refused to honor the results of their internal election of Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana for speaker — historically a given. They threatened a mutiny on the House floor that had factions of the party in open conflict amid the unrelenting chaos on Capitol Hill.

After the weekend assault on Israel by Hamas, House Republicans had clamored for unity to allow lawmakers to get back to business and rush assistance to the nation’s closest ally in the Middle East. Just days later, they were back at one another’s throats after Mr. Scalise, the party’s No. 2 in the House, bested Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio in the party showdown for the post.

“I’m frankly a little taken aback that we have some Republicans who don’t seem to want to follow anyone,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida. He and other veteran lawmakers expressed exasperation that the closed-door election did not end the bitter acrimony and rampant uncertainty that has engulfed House Republicans.

Perhaps they should not have been surprised. For Republicans, Wednesday was just the latest episode in the now-familiar cycle of G.O.P. dysfunction in the House. It has featured party defections that brought the government to the brink of a shutdown, a historic mutiny that forced out their speaker and an extraordinarily divisive contest to replace him — all in the space of two weeks.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this phrase: ‘This has never happened before,’” said Representative Juan Ciscomani, a first-term Republican from Arizona.

On Wednesday, a week and a day after the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republicans considered changes to their internal rules to impose party unity on their fractious conference, but the effort failed. They confiscated lawmakers’ cellphones to prevent word of their divisions from leaking out of their private meeting to select a nominee for speaker, but once they filed out and reclaimed their devices, the rifts were as raw and apparent as ever.

Almost as soon as the vote totals were announced, multiple House Republicans vowed to not back Mr. Scalise on the floor. He can afford at most four defections to avoid an embarrassing repeat of Mr. McCarthy’s 15 rounds of voting back in January. They raised questions about Mr. Scalise’s leadership capabilities, his legislative strategy and even his health status as he battles blood cancer.

Republicans who wanted the House to move fast were now demanding that things be slowed down.

“While I respect Steve Scalise, the underhanded efforts to rush this vote to the floor without getting full buy-in from the conference is extremely ill-advised and I will not be supporting the nomination on the floor, absent a further discussion,” Representative Michael Cloud, Republican of Texas, said on the social media site X, formerly Twitter.

Other Republicans thought Wednesday’s closed-door conference meeting was that further discussion. They were following what has been the process for congressional leadership elections for decades. A top slot comes open, candidates emerge, they twist arms, make promises, court support and hold issue forums to answer questions. A secret ballot is held, and the winner is the party’s choice. That’s it. But to the consternation of Mr. Scalise’s backers, some on the short end of Wednesday’s 113-to-99 vote seemed to want a do-over.

And that was after Mr. Jordan’s supporters actually lost two separate votes in the meeting — the one for the speakership and an earlier vote to change party rules on how to choose the nominee. The proposal, which was favored by Mr. Jordan and his backers, failed by an even wider margin than Mr. Jordan’s loss to Mr. Scalise, opening the door to his nomination and a floor vote to fill the vacant speaker’s chair.

The fact that many Republicans were unwilling to consider the case closed was stunning considering the history of leadership contests on Capitol Hill. Losers have generally accepted their fate and gotten behind the winners in their party’s political interests. While they might not always have been enthusiastic about the outcome, they did not buck the party and try to overturn it or challenge it. Certainly there have been a few defections, but nothing on the scale of Republicans abandoning Mr. Scalise.

But as the ouster of Mr. McCarthy and the willingness of House Republicans to block routine procedural votes has shown, there is a significant faction of lawmakers who do not see themselves as bound by the traditions of party discipline and loyalty.

They are not moved by the political spectacle House Republicans have made, the government instability sowed by the speakerless House or the potential political backlash it could spark if the public revolts against the constant infighting and division. They want it their way — even if a majority of their colleagues have decided otherwise.

Backers of Mr. Scalise remained hopeful on Wednesday that cooler heads would prevail and that Republicans would not again face round after round of voting for a speaker that weakens whomever is elected. They said that Mr. Jordan’s willingness to nominate Mr. Scalise for the job should bring some of his supporters along — though they wished the Ohio Republican had offered a resounding public endorsement immediately after the party vote.

“That ought to be sufficient for a large number of people that were part of the 99 who supported him,” said Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas.

Robert Jimison contributed reporting.



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