House Republicans are yet to nominate a candidate to succeed Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker after he became the first in history to be ousted from his position. Lawmakers are divided over who can best unite the conference, fundraise for Republican candidates, and keep the government funded ahead of next month’s deadline.
But two candidates have emerged as the likely finalists for the open gavel: Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, both of whom have put their names forward and are pitching their vision to colleagues.
Scalise, the House Majority Leader, has racked up roughly two dozen GOP endorsements while Jordan, who leads the House Judiciary Committee, is backed by former President Donald Trump and has more than 40 endorsements, though neither currently has enough votes to win the speakership. McCarthy also didn’t rule out the idea of joining the race to win back his job, telling reporters on Monday that he would seek re-election if the conference nominated him—a reversal from his vow last week that he wouldn’t enter the race.
Republican lawmakers are expected to attend a candidate forum on Tuesday evening and then pick their nominee on Wednesday morning, potentially teeing up a House vote before the end of the week. Until a permanent Speaker is selected, legislative work in the House remains in limbo, meaning Congress can’t make progress on the appropriations bills that must be passed by mid-November to fund the government or send more military aid to Israel following the attacks by militants this weekend.
House Republicans left a nearly three-hour closed door meeting on Monday night still unclear on whether they would be able to rally behind any one candidate in time for the conference vote on Wednesday. “We’re kind of like a scattergram—we’re all over the map in terms of the way forward,” said Rep. Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican who is backing Scalise. “There’s a lot of free agents in there—a lot of people who are just not going to forfeit their individual voting card, and I understand that.”
Here’s what to know about the candidates for House Speaker.
Jordan, 59, has gained support for his speakership bid from several key figures on the far-right. Known as a conservative agitator and staunch Trump ally, Jordan currently serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where he is leading one of several high-profile investigations into President Joe Biden over his family’s business dealings.
He is also a co-founder of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, which often clashes with GOP leadership and has been a driving force behind pushing the Republican Party further to the right. In a letter to his Republican colleagues asking for their support, Jordan touted his work helping the House pass a strict border-security bill, holding the Biden Administration accountable, and pushing for fiscal discipline. He is against sending aid to Ukraine without clear objectives and spending accountability. “The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine, it’s the border situation and crime on the streets,” he told reporters on Oct. 4. “So let’s address those.”
Democrats have criticized Jordan’s approach in Congress, viewing him as a hyper-partisan Trump defender who has used his position to shield the former president. Trump on Friday said Jordan had his “complete” and “total” endorsement. “He will be a GREAT Speaker of the House,” Trump posted on Truth Social. “He is STRONG on Crime, Borders, our Military/Vets, & 2nd Amendment.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who led the campaign to oust McCarthy, wrote on the social media platform X, “My mentor Jim Jordan would be great!”
A former wrestling champion, Jordan has been accused of ignoring sexual abuse complaints against a team doctor during his time as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University from 1987 to 1995. Jordan has denied any knowledge of the allegations and any wrongdoing on his part.
Scalise, 58, currently serves as the House Majority Leader and is gaining traction among establishment House Republicans to succeed McCarthy. He previously led the Republican Study Committee and is considered more conservative than McCarthy, though not as far to the right as Jordan, potentially making him more of a unifying force within the GOP.
In a letter to his Republican colleagues seeking their support, Scalise outlined his achievements in advancing bills related to American energy production, border security, and parental involvement in education. He joined a minority of House Republicans in voting for sending $300 million in aid to Ukraine and temporarily extending federal funding, even when such measures faced conservative opposition.
Scalise’s political journey began in the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he served from 1996 to 2007. He later won a special election to replace Bobby Jindal in Congress, and has since secured re-elections in his district, eventually rising through the ranks to become GOP whip from 2014 to 2022 and now the House Majority Leader. Throughout his tenure, Scalise has been praised by colleagues for his ability to build relationships with members of different ideological viewpoints. He also has a significant fundraising advantage, having raised over $53 million in the last election cycle, compared to Jordan’s $14 million.
But Scalise’s bid may face some health-related obstacles. He was diagnosed with blood cancer over the summer and is currently undergoing intensive treatment. In 2017, he survived an assassination attempt during a congressional baseball practice, sustaining serious injuries that continue to affect him today, including a limp.
In 2014, it was revealed that he had spoken at a gathering of white nationalists in 2002. He later apologized, asserting that he would not have attended if he had been better informed about the group’s nature. Another story emerged that Scalise had described himself to a political reporter as “like David Duke without the baggage,” referring to the former Klansman and white supremacist who was also a Louisiana politician.
Notable endorsements so far include Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota (the Majority Whip), Lisa McClain of Michigan, Ken Calvert of California, and Tony Gonzales of Texas.
Several moderate Republicans have said that McCarthy remains the only viable Republican who can lead the conference during this time, raising the possibility that the California Republican could get some nominating votes from a key bloc of the party.
McCarthy said he might be open to reclaiming the post from which he was ousted if enough of the Republicans who voted for his removal are open to his reinstatement. Such a scenario appears unlikely, especially after a group of eight Republicans sided with Democrats to vacate the speakership because he relied on Democratic votes to avert a government shutdown—a decision that McCarthy has repeatedly defended.
But speaking to reporters on Monday behind a podium in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol, where the Speaker often holds official ceremonies, McCarthy laid out a plan to defend Israel and rescue American captives. And once again, he lamented how just 4% of his party’s members were able to remove a speaker supported by 96%. “Let’s be honest about our conference,” McCarthy told reporters. “Is our conference just going to elect somebody to throw them out in another 35 days?”
Asked if he wanted to resume serving as Speaker, McCarthy said that the decision was not up to him, and that he would support whatever his fellow Republicans wanted. “I’ll allow the conference to make any decision,” he said.
Some prominent New York Republicans, who are among the most vulnerable in the House and represent a key voting bloc, have already endorsed McCarthy if he were to run again. After his news conference, Republican Rep. Nick LaLota of New York said on X that the former Speaker “is acting with class and confidence and in the best interests of America.” Rep. Mike Lawler, another New York Republican, said he believes McCarthy should be reinstated. “A lot of people believe Kevin McCarthy is the right person to lead us,” he told reporters.
Could the former President be the next House Speaker? It’s a question that gained traction last week after Trump inserted himself into the race, telling Fox News that he would consider accepting the House speakership role temporarily if Republicans could not agree on a candidate.
“I have been asked to speak as a unifier because I have so many friends in Congress,” Trump said. “If they don’t get the vote, they have asked me if I would consider taking the speakership until they get somebody longer-term, because I am running for President.”
He went on to endorse Jordan for the post, but Trump’s interest in the position could be reignited if House Republicans fail to rally around a candidate by the end of the week. Some rightwing Republicans, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Troy Nehls of Texas, had previously suggested that Trump be the next Speaker.
Trump is currently the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary and has been charged in four separate criminal cases, which are expected to play out over the coming months. While the House Speaker is not required to be a sitting member of Congress, GOP House rules currently prohibit anyone under a criminal indictment on felony charges carrying more than a two-year sentence from serving in Republican leadership, though Republicans could change the rules.
“It shouldn’t happen, and we have a lot of talent inside the House,” Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, said on ABC’s ‘This Week’ on Oct. 8 of the possibility of Trump becoming Speaker. “We’ll settle this inside the House Republican conference, and we will elect someone who’ll have the unity and the backing of the full conference.”
Other dynamics to watch
At the heart of the battle are the establishment Republicans who find themselves caught between wanting to find a consensus candidate and the power the hardline faction of the party wields.
One of the central demands from moderate Republicans is a commitment to changing the rules to prevent the kind of floor vote that led to McCarthy’s ouster. They want assurances that the government will not shut down in mid-November, and they seek to ensure that no single member will have the power to remove a sitting Speaker unilaterally.
“It’s never an easy job,” Lawler tells TIME. “You’re managing the House, you have 434 other opinions and obviously, you have to manage your own conference. It’s not easy. I don’t think it’s necessarily any more difficult now than it was to begin with. But the question is, can someone build consensus and move us forward?”
The next Speaker will inherit a House that is not only divided but subdivided, with the GOP’s narrow nine-seat majority further diminished by an angry split between establishment Republicans and the far-right populist faction egged on by Trump. Add to that a broken power structure that allows even a handful of dissenting members to wield significant influence, and the new dynamic raises concerns whether anyone can lead the House on critical issues.
“The Republican Party is in real danger,” says Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “They’re not going to get very much done in the coming months.”