Sunday, January 29, 2023
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It’s Steve Scalise’s Moment. He Should Seize It.



On Wednesday the Washington Examiner ran a story about how Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, the current House Minority Whip who has already won an election to become the next House Majority Leader when the new Congress is sworn in next month, might end up with an unexpected promotion thanks to Kevin McCarthy’s trouble securing 218 votes to become Speaker.

As House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seeks to fend off intraparty opposition to his bid to become the next House speaker, several Republicans are reportedly huddling behind another top member of their party for a possible leadership challenge.

A group of lawmakers has approached No. 2 Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA) about running for House speaker in the next Congress should McCarthy’s bid fail, telling him to “just be ready,” sources familiar told Politico. Scalise could offer a more agreeable alternative to McCarthy, as the House minority leader has faced opposition from a handful of Republicans that has threatened to derail his speakership bid.

However, the closed-door conversations could put Scalise in a difficult position. Publicly, the Louisiana Republican has declined to comment on the matter, instead pointing to previous statements he made endorsing McCarthy and maintaining he would not run against him.

Instead, Scalise launched a bid for House majority leader, being elected to the No. 2 position in November after running uncontested. Meanwhile, Scalise has kept a low profile while McCarthy fights off intraparty opposition.

“Does he want to be speaker? Absolutely. But is he going to screw Kevin? Absolutely not,” one person close to Scalise told the outlet.

Scalise has not been organizing support or making calls related to a possible speakership bid, according to Politico. Some conservatives have hinted they would back the Louisiana Republican should he run but maintained there’s a list of other possible contenders they may consider.

“Some of those candidates have expressed interest to us — or that they would be interested once it’s clear Kevin McCarthy won’t be speaker,” Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) told Politico. However, he added that it’s difficult to name names without risking the ire of McCarthy and his allies.

Here’s the plain truth of all of this.

First, as it stands right now, Kevin McCarthy isn’t going to be the next Speaker of the House. He can’t get to 218 votes. There are five Republican House members who are public about their sworn opposition to him. Five is one too many; if they were four rather than five McCarthy would be OK. But just with the public opponents he’s now unviable.

And he has a lot more than five GOP members who oppose him. It’s more like two dozen.

They’re mostly Freedom Caucus members, but a few of them are just conservatives who aren’t in the Freedom Caucus. And the opposition to McCarthy isn’t personal, though he’s burned his credibility with many of them by repeatedly lying to them. They oppose McCarthy because they want the House to become a real legislative body again and they’re demanding reforms to the House rules.

Reforms which are not unreasonable. By any means. They want a motion to vacate the chair, which is the mechanism by which a legislative body can hold its leadership accountable, and McCarthy is denying them that. They want a single-subject rule, meaning an end to these massive omnibus bills which contain all kinds of crap unrelated to the main purpose of the legislation. That’s something most state legislatures have and it makes for a lot more functional operation; bills are a lot simpler and reflect up-or-down preferences on issues. And they want normal operation of legislation – committee markups on bills, amendments on the floor, regular order.

And a few other things related to having Congress operate in the manner a working legislature is supposed to.

These are things Republicans have been pining for since Newt Gingrich left office as Speaker. Congress has become horrendously dysfunctional without them. There hasn’t been an amendment allowed on the floor of the House since before Paul Ryan assumed the Speakership. That’s more than six years.

And Kevin McCarthy, who thought he was going to ride a red wave to a 250-seat majority and ended up with only 222 seats, won’t agree to the reforms.

Without that agreement the opponents aren’t going to move off their position. They have the leverage to enforce their will, and rather than accept this fact McCarthy is talking about punishing them. There has even been discussion of trying to make up the difference by reeling in some Democrat votes.

Which won’t work, by the way, because those Democrat votes will come at a cost, and when that cost is known it’ll drive away more Republican votes than Democrats McCarthy can buy.

So if McCarthy isn’t viable because he isn’t worthy – the moment calls for him to be a Speaker, not a tyrant, but Kevin McCarthy is showing himself to be too much of a swamp creature to embrace that moment – then who is?

Steve Scalise is.

Scalise is well-liked by the conservatives in the House. He’s also very popular with the American public and has a terrific story of grit and resiliency after having been shot by a would-be assassin five years ago. Scalise can make the deal McCarthy won’t to rescue the House from the corruption and dysfunction it has fallen into.

What’s holding him back is his loyalty to McCarthy. But Steve Scalise needs to recognize that loyalty eventually becomes a liability.

The deal he should make with McCarthy is that McCarthy can stay Majority Leader and Scalise leapfrogs him because Scalise can unite the caucus behind a reformed rules package and McCarthy had that opportunity and blew it.

It’s not all that complicated. It’s pretty simple. Be worthy of the moment. Reform the House and make it a legislative body worthy of its history, prestige and reputation.

It’s all there for him, but Scalise has to take it. People want him to take it. America actually needs him to take it, because the alternative is chaos – even if McCarthy relents, by this point nobody will trust him to abide by whatever deal he actually could make with the conservatives.

But they’ll trust Scalise.

His time has come. He only needs to act.