No. 2 House Republican on GOP's radar as party gears up for speakership fight

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Rep. Steve Scalise speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, December 14, 2022.

CNN  — 

All eyes are on a number of top House Republicans, including Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, as the GOP braces for a Tuesday speakership vote that could devolve into a drawn-out floor fight not seen in a century.

Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, has been floated as a potential candidate for speaker if GOP leader Kevin McCarthy is unable to secure the 218 votes needed to clinch the gavel.

CNN reported Monday that Scalise has made clear he backs McCarthy for the top job and GOP sources say he has rejected pleas by hardliners to mount a challenge to the California Republican. It remains unclear whether Scalise could even capture the support to win the speakership if McCarthy falters.

Still, Scalise is widely expected to run for the job should McCarthy drop out of the race.

Scalise, who most recently was House minority whip, has long been a deputy to McCarthy and is poised to inherit his former role of majority leader once the new Congress is seated.

In a brief interview last month, Scalise said he wasn’t going to discuss speculation on what he might do if McCarthy doesn’t get the votes to become speaker. In 2018, he declined to pursue the position following Paul Ryan’s retirement, citing his strong friendship with McCarthy.

A New Orleans native, Scalise was a computer systems engineer when he decided to get involved in state politics in the mid-90s. He served as a state representative from 1995 until 2007 and as a state senator briefly afterward – all the while with his ambitions set on Washington.

He made moves for the 1st Congressional District seat in 1999 and again in 2004, only to step aside both times and defer to other high-profile Republican candidates such as Bobby Jindal, according to The Times Picayune.

His time would finally come in 2008 after Jindal was elected Louisiana governor and resigned from the House seat. Scalise won the special election in May 2008, was later elected to a full two-year term and has cruised to reelection in the conservative district every election cycle since.

In 2014, just as he was about to become the House whip for Republicans, Scalise faced intense blowback for having given a speech in 2002 to a White supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. Scalise apologized and said in a statement that speaking to the group “was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”

He survived the near-career ending scandal and was crucial to building support among Republicans for their legislative priorities as the whip.

A shooting in June 2017, however, left him seriously wounded, with a grueling, months-long recovery process. Scalise was shot in the hip by a gunman who opened fire as congressional Republicans were practicing for an annual charity baseball game.

“A lot of people asked, ‘Did this event change you?’ And I think those of you who know me know I’m an optimistic person. I’m, you know, just a fun-loving person. I’m from South Louisiana and we believe you work hard and you play hard and Joie de vivre,” Scalise said in a September 28, 2017, speech – his first time returning to Capitol Hill following the shooting.

“Is an event like this going to really change that? And the first thing I can tell you is, yes, it changed me, but not in the ways you might think. It’s only strengthened my faith in God. And it’s really crystallized what shows up as the goodness in people. I got to see that goodness in people.”

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