LYNCHBURG, Va. — Confident that Republicans will defy historical midterm odds and hold onto their House majority, Steve Scalise won’t even speculate about where he sees himself in leadership if the GOP ends up in the minority next year.
The current House majority whip has ruled out a direct challenge to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for speaker if Republicans hold onto the majority. Retiring Speaker Paul D. Ryan has endorsed McCarthy to succeed him.
But when asked at a campaign event here Thursday night whether he would challenge McCarthy for minority leader should Republicans lose the House, Scalise did not rule it out.
“I’ve never been in the speculation game,” the Louisiana Republican said. “What I said was — when Paul said he was going to step down — I said I’d support Kevin. And I haven’t talked about all the things that might happen and what I might run for. I said we need to focus on doing our job, we need to focus on keeping the House majority.”
“There’ll be times for figuring out the titles later,” Scalise added. “I don’t want it to be minority leader or minority whip. I want it to be Republicans having the speakership, Republicans having the chairmanships that are so important to keep building this economy and getting this country back on track.”
Scalise even mentioning both titles he could run for in the minority — minority leader, if he wanted to challenge McCarthy, or minority whip, if he wanted to avoid a contested leadership battle — is significant.
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He may not have even decided yet. Or if his confidence about Republicans’ chances in the midterms is to be believed, he may not need to choose.
Noting that his April statement after Ryan announced his retirement plans that he would not run against McCarthy seemed to come without qualifications as to which position the California Republican was seeking, Scalise suggested he was only ever thinking about a Republican majority scenario.
“No qualification for speaker,” he said. “I mean there’s no other race. He’s not running for anything else. No one else is speculating. I mean, ‘What if it’s this? What if it’s that? What if this person runs for chairman?’ We’re going to figure all that out real soon. I’m focused on making sure we’re going to stay in the majority.”
A speaker’s race is significantly different than a minority leader race. Both require the candidate to win a majority of the conference but the speaker also needs to secure 218 votes on the floor.
It’s an open question as to whether McCarthy could get 218 votes in a floor vote for speaker, which is why Scalise has been coalescing support behind the scenes for a scenario where there’s a sudden opening.
McCarthy has a much easier path to winning a majority of the conference’s support for minority leader. His only challenger for either position in Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan, who may have enough support to block McCarthy from getting the 218 votes needed to be speaker but likely couldn’t get a majority of the conference’s support.
Scalise entering a race for minority leader would certainly make McCarthy’s path more difficult, but it’s unclear if he would have enough support to upset him.
The majority whip’s refusal to rule out such a scenario came during a campaign event he headlined for the Republican candidates in Virginia’s 5th and 6th districts, Denver Riggleman and Ben Cline. Both are open seats this cycle due to GOP retirements — freshman Rep. Tom Garrett vacating his seat in the 5th and 13-term Rep. Bob Goodlatte giving up his seating in the 6th.
Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney joined Scalise at the event Thursday. The two are on a two-tour campaigning for Republicans in North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey and Kentucky.
Cheney is reportedly eyeing a spot in leadership next year as well. Politico and CNN have both reported she will run Republican Conference chairwoman, but she declined to confirm Thursday night.
“I’m just focused right now on making sure that we keep the majority,” Cheney said.
It’s unclear if Cheney would run for the position regardless of which party controls the House.
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the current conference chairwoman, wants to move up in leadership but hasn’t announced her plans yet. She is more likely to run for a higher position in the majority than in the minority, where Republicans would lose a leadership position at the top.
Scalise, when asked if his travels with Cheney suggests he’s endorsing her for the conference chair post, noted that Cheney hasn’t made any formal announcement and that she’s focused on keeping the majority.
“Hopefully next Tuesday we’ll have a real late night celebrating the fact that we defied history and held the House on the Republican side,” he said. “And then on Wednesday morning everybody can figure out what they want to run for.”