Scalise Smoke Signals

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
January 4, 2023

The G.O.P.’s “working group” late this afternoon may have been the moment of truth for McCarthy in his quest to be elected Speaker. His allies seemed to be optimistic that they would somehow be able to reach some sort of compromise after six bruising rounds of voting. But from Matt Gaetz’s latest vow to “never [vote] for that person,” it sounds like McCarthy’s last-ditch plea may not have landed. 

Former member Rodney Davis, who has been dispatched by the not-yet-Speaker’s office to help whip votes, told me the meeting itself was “telltale” for McCarthy. “There’s a huge sense of optimism right now because they’re talking and they’re offering up solutions,” said Davis. 

Will that entail once unthinkable trades, like Gaetz becoming chairman of the armed services subcommittee, as has been reported? It’s possible, Davis suggested. (This would also have major repercussions for Ukraine aid, as my colleague Julia Ioffe reported.) But I still don’t think it would move Gaetz. This comes as Ken Buck intimated after the fifth vote that he’s done with voting for McCarthy (though he still did for a sixth vote) and announced on CNN that perhaps they should be talking a bit more openly about Steve Scalise

Indeed, everyone is now looking for smoke signals from Scalise’s office. My sources on the Hill were stirring after hearing that Scalise called McCarthy ally Jason Smith into his office this afternoon. Smith is a vocal proponent of McCarthy and the kind of “Only Kevin” that Scalise would have to win over to make this work. Also, Smith has his eye on leading the powerful Ways and Means Committee. One source heard Scalise was calling Smith in to tell him to deliver the message to McCarthy that time is up, and he needs a chance to run. Scalise’s spokesperson acknowledged they met but said the conversation was about committees and unrelated to the speaker vote. “This is completely false…at no point did either of them discuss Kevin McCarthy stepping aside,” she told me, adding that Scalise still supports McCarthy for speaker. Smith too denied that they talked about McCarthy’s speakership. “Absolutely not, that’s a complete lie,” Smith told me. “Someone is lying. That was never discussed.” 

There is one thing we know for sure: D.C.’s High Holy Day, or 2 p.m. on Thursday, is approaching. It’s the hour when jet fumes call members back to their districts and when real conversations happen. I suspect that’s when they start talking about who can win over the “No” votes, not the other way around. If there’s one thing lawmakers can agree on, it’s that they don’t want to stay in D.C. on Friday. Do the “Only Kevins” love him enough to give up their weekend, or even just their Friday? Sadly, I doubt it. So if McCarthy wasn’t able to peel off some “No” votes after this meeting, he might really be cooked.