GOP’s Scalise ends his bid to become House speaker after failing to secure the votes to win gavel

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of La., talks to reporters Thursday as he announces he is ending his campaign to be the next House speaker after a Republican meeting at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — Republican Steve Scalise ended his bid to become House speaker late Thursday after hardline holdouts refused to back the party’s nominee, throwing the GOP majority into deeper chaos with the chamber unable to function.

Scalise told GOP colleagues at a closed-door evening meeting of his decision and pointedly declined to announce backing for anyone else, including his chief rival, Rep. Jim Jordan, the far-right Judiciary Committee chairman backed by Donald Trump who had already told colleagues he no longer would seek the job.

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Next steps are uncertain as the House is essentially closed while the Republican majority tries to elect a speaker after ousting Kevin McCarthy from the job.

“I just shared with my colleagues that I’m withdrawing my name as a candidate for speaker-designee,” Scalise said as he emerged from the closed-door meeting at the Capitol.

Scalise, R-La., said the Republican majority “still has to come together and is not there.”

He had been working furiously to secure the votes after being nominated by a majority of his colleagues, but after hours of private meetings over two days and late into the evening it was clear lawmakers were not budging from their refusal to support him.

Asked if he would throw his support behind Jordan, Scalise said, “It’s got to be people that aren’t doing it for themselves and their own personal interest.”

He said he would push quickly for a resolution. “But it wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t going to happen today. It wasn’t going to happen tomorrow. It needs to happen soon, but I’ve withdrawn my name,” he said.

Frustrations have mounted as the political crisis spiraled and Republicans lost another day without a House speaker. Scalise was trying to peel off more than 100 votes, mostly from those who backed Jordan.

But many hard-liners taking their cues from Trump have dug in for a prolonged fight to replace McCarthy after his historic ouster from the job. They argued that Majority Leader Scalise was no better choice, that he should be focusing on his health as he battles cancer and that he was not the leader they would support. No House votes were scheduled.

McCarthy said afterward that Scalise would remain as majority leader but had no other advice for his colleagues. The California Republican had briefly flirted with a comeback bid but it’s unclear if he would try again.

“I just think the conference as a whole has to figure out their problems, solve it and select the leader,” he said.

The House is entering its second week without a speaker and is essentially unable to function during a time of turmoil in the U.S. and wars overseas, and the political pressure increasingly is on Republicans to reverse course, reassert majority control and govern in Congress.

Action is needed to fund the government or face the threat of a federal shutdown in a month. Lawmakers also want Congress to deliver a strong statement of support for Israel in the war with Hamas, but a bipartisan resolution has been sidelined by the stalemate in the House. The White House is expected to soon ask for money for Israel, Ukraine and the backfill of the U.S. weapons stockpile.

The situation is not fully different from the start of the year, when McCarthy faced a similar backlash from a different group of far-right holdouts who ultimately gave their votes to elect him speaker, then engineered his historic downfall.

But the math this time is even more daunting, and the problematic political dynamic only worsening.

Scalise won the closed-door Republican vote 113-99.

But Scalise would have needed 217 votes to reach a majority in a floor battle with Democrats. The chamber is narrowly split 221-212, with two vacancies, meaning Scalise could lose just a few Republicans in the face of opposition from Democrats who will most certainly back their own leader, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Absences heading into the weekend could lower the majority threshold needed.

Jordan’s backers revived calls for party members to get behind the Ohio Republican, who is a founding leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

“Make him the speaker. Do it tonight,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. “He’s the only one who can unite our party. It’s time to get behind him.”

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