The Republicans have chosen a candidate for the important top post in the US Congress - but Steve Scalise is by no means assured of a majority in a vote. On Wednesday, the splintered faction nominated the arch-conservative MP, who was previously the Republican number two in the US House of Representatives.
In a party-line vote, Scalise received 113 of 99 votes, defeating radical MP Jim Jordan. But the crucial vote on the presidency of the US House of Representatives was postponed indefinitely - because some dissenters have already spoken out. Time is of the essence, especially with regard to support for Israel and Ukraine.
Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives
The Republicans currently have 221 representatives in the House of Representatives. 217 votes are needed to be elected chairman. That means Scalise can only afford four dissidents in his group. He can hardly count on votes from US President Joe Biden's Democrats.
The situation is as complicated as it was in January, when Kevin McCarthy entered the race for the top job. He was only elected in the 15th round, started into office completely weakened and was finally driven out of office by his own people in a historic vote last week. The Republicans will probably want to do everything in their power to prevent such a situation from occurring again.
But the party is anything but united. The vote within the party shows that Scalise lacks support. Scalise's opponent Jim Jordan, who was supported by former US President Donald Trump, received 99 votes. Some MPs voted for other candidates or abstained. Jordan said after the vote that he would now support Scalise. But that doesn't convince all of his supporters, who expressed doubts about the nominee's suitability.
Scalise as the face of the establishment
The 58-year-old from Louisiana currently leads the Republican faction in the chamber. He is currently being treated for blood cancer. Some Republicans therefore had doubts that he would enter the race. Nevertheless, after McCarthy was voted out, Scalise quickly announced that he wanted to become chairman of the House of Representatives. Although he is considered less radical than Jordan, he is by no means part of the party's moderate camp.
Scalise has a staunchly conservative profile, agitating against abortion and same-sex marriage. He also speaks out against stricter gun laws, doubts the scientifically proven climate change and supported Trump's entry ban for people from Islamic countries. Scalise also made headlines in 2002 with a speech to a white supremacist group, for which he later apologized. Nevertheless, even he is seen by some of the party's hardliners as part of the political establishment in Washington that they reject.
Dissenters criticize Scalise
About a dozen Republicans said after Scalise's nomination that they would not vote for him in the vote. Among them is the ultra-right Marjorie Taylor Greene, who cited Scalise's illness as the reason for her stance. She announced that she would vote for Jordan in a vote. Representative Lauren Boebert, who supports lax gun laws, also said she was not satisfied with Scalise's previous work and therefore would not vote for him.
It was expected that Scalise would now talk to the dissenters and try to get them on his side. This could lead to a similar situation to what occurred with McCarthy in January. The chairman, who has since been fired, made so many concessions to his opponents that they ultimately had him in their hands. At that time, this also included the fact that it only took one member of parliament to submit a motion to drive the chairman out of office. In doing so, McCarthy ultimately dug his political grave. His opponent Matt Gaetz submitted a corresponding proposal last week - and McCarthy was unable to secure a majority, which cost him the prestigious post.
Congress virtually unable to act
The chairman of the House of Representatives comes third in the state ranking after the president and his vice president. Without a properly elected chairman, parliamentary work largely comes to a standstill. This is particularly a problem in the current tense global political situation with numerous sources of conflict, as Scalise also emphasized after his nomination. The parliamentary chamber must quickly become functional again and, for example, approve further military aid to Israel after the Hamas attacks, he said.
It remains unclear how support for Ukraine would continue under Scalise. Congress had recently passed a budget by mid-November at the last moment in order to prevent government business from coming to a standstill. This did not include aid to Ukraine. Scalise had supported funding for the country attacked by Russia in the past. But it is unclear how he would behave under pressure from his party colleagues, some of whom reject further military aid because they would rather see the money spent in their own country. Scalise has recently held back from making public statements on the topic.