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D.C. Memo: Scalise out of running for House speaker, Emmer’s name floated; Democrats bicker over Israel-Hamas war

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, won speaker designate on Wednesday by 14 votes. About 36 hours later, he was out, unable to get enough support to win the House. Now Rep. Tom Emmer, 6th District, is among those who could pursue speaker.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Majority Leader Steve Scalise shown during a July 2023 news conference.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Majority Leader Steve Scalise shown during a July 2023 news conference.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON — The withdrawal of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, as speaker designate late Thursday sunk the U.S. House deeper into chaos and unleashed speculation as to who would be the next candidate for the job, with Rep. Tom Emmer among the names mentioned.  

On Wednesday Scalise narrowly won an election by secret ballot – beating Trump-endorsed Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, by 14 votes – to become speaker designate. But, failing to secure the support from 217 members needed to win the speakership in an election by the full U.S. House, Scalise dropped out about 36 hours later.

Emmer, R-6th District, had been running for the job Scalise now holds, the No. 2 GOP House leadership position of majority leader. As House majority whip, Emmer currently holds the No. 3 position.

On Thursday, as he was making calls to lobby colleagues for that promotion, Emmer was asked by some Republican lawmakers if he would run for speaker if Scalise failed to garner enough support.  When asked by reporters if he wanted to run for Speaker of the House, Emmer said he continued to back Scalise.

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“I support Steve Scalise, nobody should want that job,” Emmer said.

But after Scalise bowed out Thursday evening, Emmer is now considered a possible candidate. Others include Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Oklahoma, who had also been running for majority leader, and acting Speaker Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina. But as of Friday morning, Jordan was the only one who had made an official bid to try again for the top job in the GOP House leadership.

Emmer’s office did not respond to requests for information. But House Republicans have scheduled a Friday morning meeting to regroup, and at that meeting, candidates to replace Scalise are expected to emerge.

However, anyone who decides to run for Speaker of the House will have the same problem Scalise faced: rounding up 217 votes in a fractious House where the GOP can only afford losing four of its own party’s votes.

The U.S. House plunged into uncertainty last week, when eight Republicans voted with Democrats to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California. Since then, all work in the chamber has stopped, with lawmakers unable to respond to the Israel-Hamas war or move legislation that would prevent a federal government shutdown when a stopgap spending bill expires on Nov. 17.

On Thursday, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, left one of the now-frequent closed-door House GOP meetings voicing a lot of pessimism.

He told NBC News reporter Sahil Kapur that the eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to oust McCarthy last week were “traitors” and that the U.S. House is “paralyzed” by the former speaker’s ouster.

Rogers also said the GOP might never get 217 votes for a speaker. The Alabama Republican said House Democrats must cross the line to help.

The likelihood of that is slim. However, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has floated the idea of allowing Democrats to have as many seats as Republicans on the House Rules Committee, the panel that decides what legislation will be considered by the floor. Currently there are four Democrats and nine Republicans on that committee, including Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District.

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A bipartisan committee would presumably allow bipartisan bills to be considered by the U.S. House. 

Israel-Hamas war threatens Democratic unity

The bloody war between Israel and Hamas resulted this week in clashes between Democrats in Congress over how the United States should respond.

While most Democrats have condemned Hamas for what they view is an unprovoked attack on Israel, some, including Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District,  have become increasingly hawkish, while others, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, and other progressives, are pressing for a diplomatic solution to the war.

And there have been ugly clashes.

During a closed-door caucus meeting of Democrats, Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pennsylvania, spoke about a vigil she attended after Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel this weekend. 

As Wild told fellow Democrats she was disappointed that Muslim leaders weren’t present at that event, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, loudly interjected, saying either  “because they’re all guilty” or “because they should feel guilty.” Accounts differ. A spokesperson for Gottheimer denied that he was talking about Muslims.

But whatever Gottheimer said, it prompted Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, a member of the Progressive Caucus, to confront his New Jersey colleague, telling him it was a “sh-t thing to say.”

Politico reported that during the spat, Reps. Omar, Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , D-New York, and other  progressive lawmakers were spotted leaving the party meeting together.

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Omar, who has been targeted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for past criticisms of Israel, on Thursday issued a release offering help to constituents and their family members in both Israel and Gaza.   

“Our office is actively engaged in assisting constituents and their families who are in Israel and Gaza,” Omar’s release said. “While we cannot provide travel advice or help with individual travel arrangements, there are specific situations where our team may be able to help – in particular, for constituents whose U.S. passports have expired or those who are waiting for family visa petitions to be processed.

Your questions and comments

In response to a story that mentioned former President Donald Trump’s involvement in the effort to find a successor to ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a reader had an interesting question.

“Why does Trump still have so much say, influence and control in the Republican Party?” she asked.

My response is that Trump still has a very devoted Republican voter base and wildly outpolls GOP rivals. So, it is politically risky to dismiss him. But it’s interesting that in a secret ballot this week, House Republicans voted for Rep. Steve Scalise as speaker-designate over Rep. Jim Jordan, the candidate Trump supported. But it was a narrow victory, 113-99. 

Another reader had the following comment about Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, whose job as House majority whip is to try to unify the fractious GOP House conference.  

“Since Tom Emmer is a former hockey coach, and presumably a former hockey player, perhaps he could knock heads together and keep his party in line. I’m not a supporter of Emmer, but I’ve got to give him credit. (Or would that be a tip credit?)” the reader said. 

Please keep your comments, and any questions, coming. I’ll try my best to respond. Please contact me at

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