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Steve Scalise struggles for votes in US House Speaker race

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The Republican party appeared no closer to electing a Speaker of the House of Representatives late on Thursday, as congressman Steve Scalise struggled to shore up support from across the party for his bid to succeed Kevin McCarthy.

Scalise, a representative from Louisiana and the House majority leader, won the party’s nomination in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, defeating Ohio congressman Jim Jordan 113-99 in a secret ballot.

But more than 24 hours later, Scalise’s speakership bid was mired in doubt as he struggled to line up enough colleagues to win an election on the floor of the House, where Democrats will also vote.

Scalise will need to win over nearly all 99 colleagues who backed Jordan if he is to win the vote in the full House. But as many as 20 lawmakers had indicated publicly by late Thursday that they would not throw their support behind the Louisiana congressman and questioned whether he could ever unite the party.

“Time is of the essence. There is not that much time left,” McCarthy, who was dramatically ousted as Speaker last week, told reporters on Thursday.

McCarthy has not formally endorsed a successor. But several of his allies have rallied around Jordan’s candidacy in recent days. On Thursday, he cast doubt on Scalise’s bid for the Speaker’s gavel.

“It is possible. It is a big hill though,” McCarthy said.

The election of the House Speaker requires a simple majority. Because Republicans control the chamber by a razor-thin margin, and Democrats have shown no willingness to support a Republican candidate, Scalise cannot afford to lose the support of more than a handful of his GOP colleagues.

The stalemate exposes the deepening divisions in the Republican party on Capitol Hill and comes a little over a week after Florida congressman Matt Gaetz led a rebellion of eight members to unseat McCarthy from the speakership.

But the impasse also has consequences for American political leadership, given the House cannot legislate without a Speaker — a situation that threatens future US funding for Ukraine or support for Israel as it responds to last weekend’s deadly attack by Hamas.

Washington also faces the possibility of another government shutdown in just over a month, with a short-term deal struck last month between McCarthy and Democrats due to expire in mid-November. If a new funding agreement cannot be reached in time, millions of federal workers could be furloughed and all but essential government services would be halted.

Scalise was still vying for votes on Capitol Hill on Thursday, addressing groups of Republicans as well as meeting individually with some members. But many Republicans say they will still cast ballots in any House vote for Jordan instead.

Jordan’s failure to defeat Scalise earlier this week came even after he received the endorsement of Donald Trump, the former president and frontrunner for the party’s nomination for president in 2024.

Trump waded into the Speaker contest again on Thursday, telling Fox News in a radio interview that while he liked “both of them very much”, he had concerns about Scalise’s health.

The Louisiana congressman is undergoing treatment for blood cancer and six years ago was almost killed after being shot by a leftwing activist at a congressional baseball game.

“He’s got a very serious form of cancer. And, you know, most importantly, I want Steve to get well, I just don’t know how you can do the job when you have — that’s a serious problem,” Trump said.

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