USA: Speaker nominee Steve Scalise drops out

It’s starting again. Steve Scalise, the Republican nominee for Speaker of the House of Representatives, has withdrawn his candidacy for the third most powerful political office in the United States. He lacked support in the party. Now the search continues.

The chaos in the US Parliament continues: Republican Steve Scalise, nominated for the presidency of the House of Representatives, has withdrawn his candidacy due to internal party resistance. The Chamber of Congress remains largely unable to act for the time being – in the midst of international crises such as the bloodily escalated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the ongoing war in Ukraine. The ultra-conservative MP Scalise ultimately failed to secure sufficient support within his own group.

Resistance from the far right

The Republicans nominated the 58-year-old from the state of Louisiana for the influential post at the head of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. However, he would most likely have been denied a majority in the chamber due to several dissidents in his own ranks. Shortly after his election as candidate, around a dozen Republicans announced that they would withhold their vote from Scalise in a vote for the presidency. In the course of internal negotiations behind closed doors, there were more. And so Scalise appeared in front of the press on Thursday evening (local time) to announce his withdrawal.

“There are still some people who have their own agenda,” Scalise said. He warned: “This House of Representatives needs a leader.” The chairman of the parliamentary chamber comes third in the state ranking after the president and his deputy. Since the Democrats currently hold the presidency, the office is particularly important in the hands of the opposition.

Historically fragile situation in the US Parliament

The previous leader, Kevin McCarthy, was voted out as leader of the House of Representatives in a historic vote last week. Republicans from the radical right wing of the party had driven him from office. It was the first time in US history that a chairman of the House of Representatives lost his job in this way. The political drama largely brought the US Parliament to a standstill.

Scalise currently leads the Republican group in the chamber and was chosen by his group as its candidate after a week of deliberations. But he only narrowly won against his party rival Jim Jordan, who is considered a loyalist of former US President Donald Trump. He, in turn, is considered the most promising candidate for the Republican presidential candidacy for the election in November 2024 – and would like to see a confidant in the office of chairman.

Republicans only have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, so Republican dissidents have powerful leverage in their hands when it comes to voting – even if there are only a few of them. Just four dissidents in his group would have been enough to make Scalise unable to maneuver politically. Because he couldn’t have counted on votes from US President Joe Biden’s Democrats.

The Republican Party is deeply divided

The political drama reveals the deep divisions in the Republican faction in the House of Representatives. Radical and ultra-right forces have now gained so much power there that they can actually set the tone. This is not just due to the narrow majority, which allows a few people to have a lot of influence. It is also a consequence of the fact that the party leadership has allowed party colleagues from the far right to do what they want in recent years, as they are often protégés of the still popular party leader Trump.

“I have no regrets whatsoever,” Rep. Matt Gaetz told CNN after Scalise withdrew his candidacy. It was the hardliner from Florida who initiated McCarthy’s downfall. “People say there is chaos here,” said Gaetz. He sees it differently.

What has already become clearer in recent months in the dispute over the debt ceiling or the budget is now becoming even clearer: the radicals are not interested in sustainable solutions and consensus – they rather want to push the political system to its limits and break all rules and conventions and enforce radical demands.

After Steve Scalise withdraws: search for a centrist candidate continues

It is therefore completely unclear whether the group can now quickly agree on a new candidate who they would then stand behind in an election. Many Republicans prefer Trump supporter Jordan. However, a compromise candidate would also be possible, with fewer MPs in the group likely to object. Various names are circulating. One possibility would be current interim spokesman Patrick McHenry.

The name Trump came up again and again. The former president doesn’t seem to have much to say, at least in the Republican faction – but he’s still involved. His favorite candidate, Jordan, failed in the first internal vote.

It became clear in January that Trump cannot rely unconditionally on the loyalty of his supporters. At that time, Trump supported McCarthy – but he was only elected in the 15th ballot because the radicals had refused to support him for a long time.

Another option would be a centrist candidate on whom more moderate Republicans could reach agreement with cooperative Democrats. According to media reports, Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries has already brought such a solution into play. But given the deep political divisions between the camps in the USA, such a cross-party solidarity would be nothing short of a sensation. And it would be a disgrace for the Republicans if they were unable to find their own candidate despite having a majority in the House of Representatives.

Bad time for political chaos – aid to Ukraine is running out

But there are pressing problems – in the USA and far beyond its borders. The interim budget that ultimately cost McCarthy the office expires in mid-November. A new federal budget should actually be negotiated now. The US government is also warning that the previously approved aid to Ukraine is running out. So Congress must approve new funding. And Biden also wants to ask Parliament for further support for Israel, its traditionally close ally. At the moment even that is not possible.