Small number of Republican hardline holdouts refuse to back their party's nominee
Representative Steve Scalise, whom Republicans nominated to be the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, dropped out of the race on Thursday as the party failed to resolve its divisions, prolonging the leadership crisis in the chamber.
Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, had secured his party's nomination to replace ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy but was still short of the 217 votes needed to be elected on the House floor, as several of his fellow Republicans said they would not support him.
Republicans could afford no more than four defections, as they control the House by a narrow 221-212 margin, if they wanted to end the House's leaderless bout that has already lasted nine days.
"I just shared with my colleagues that I was withdrawing my name as a candidate for our Speaker designee," Scalise told reporters.
"There are still some people that have their own agendas," he said. "And I was very clear, we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs."
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The Republican infighting has left the chamber unable to act to support Israel's war against Hamas or pass government spending bills before funding runs out on Nov. 17.
Republicans had been hoping to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing spectacle that occurred in January, when hardline conservatives forced McCarthy to endure 15 floor votes over four days before winning the Speaker's gavel.
Several Republicans earlier said they would stick with Scalise's rival Jim Jordan, who lost out in a secret-ballot vote on Wednesday. Jordan had encouraged his supporters to vote for Scalise, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While McCarthy was the first Speaker to be removed in a formal vote, the last two Republicans to hold the job wound up leaving under pressure from party hardliners.
Scalise, 58, gained near legendary status within Republican circles by surviving a severe gunshot wound after a gunman opened fire during practise for a charity baseball game in 2017.
He also commands widespread respect as a veteran legislator, who has spent years in party leadership positions.
But Scalise also faces new health concerns as he undergoes treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, which some Jordan supporters cited as a reason not to vote for him.
Jordan was endorsed by former U.S. president Donald Trump and appeared to be the favourite of populist minded hardliners.
Trump, in an interview with Fox News Radio earlier on Thursday, said he did not object to Scalise as Speaker.
"Steve is a man that is in serious trouble from the standpoint of his cancer. I mean, he's got to get better for himself," he said in an interview with Fox News Radio.
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