Washington — In a move that could hurt the chances of U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, to rise to majority leader, voting by Republicans to fill that post and other leadership positions has been pushed back several weeks, until late October at the earliest.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called off Monday the voting that had been scheduled for Thursday to nominate his successor and potentially to choose a new majority leader and majority whip. Instead, Republicans will meet Thursday to endorse their candidate for speaker, a constitutional position elected by a public vote of the full House. That vote will take place Oct. 29, and the winner will set the date of the other leadership elections.
Incumbent Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, is considered the favorite to win the endorsement of his fellow Republicans for speaker, and the majority party typically controls the speakership. But Republicans are struggling with divisions in their ranks that have already led to Boehner’s surprise Sept. 27 announcement that he will step down at the end of October, and two other Republican House members are challenging McCarthy. Should McCarthy fail to be elected speaker, he may stay as majority leader, the No. 2 position in the leadership hierarchy, forestalling Scalise’s attempt to move up from his current No. 3 slot.
The delay allows more time for opposition to McCarthy to coalesce, and also, potentially, for new challengers to Scalise to emerge. So far, only Scalise and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, of Georgia, have declared for majority leader. Scalise told supporters Sunday that he has the votes to win the job.
The whip is responsible for tracking and corralling Republican votes on the House floor for the leadership agenda. The majority leader plays a greater role in formulating policy with the speaker, and is assigned the critical task of scheduling the flow of legislation. Scalise, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, was selected as whip in 2014 in another Republican shakeup.
If chosen majority leader, Scalise would be the highest-ranking member of Congress from Louisiana since New Orleans Democrat Hale Boggs served as House majority leader in 1971-72, before disappearing on a flight in Alaska.