As we noted last week, the buzz about Paul Ryan quitting as the Speaker of the House in Congress has been growing, along with the buzz about Louisiana’s own Steve Scalise, the current House Majority Whip, ascending to succeed him.
POLITICO caught up with Scalise and put the question to him, and got an interesting answer…
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Scalise said of a bid for speaker if the circumstances were right. “Obviously, I’ve shown interest in the past at moving up. I’ve enjoyed being in leadership. I feel like I’ve had a strong influence on some of the things that we’ve done, and I’ve helped put together coalitions to pass a full repeal of Obamacare.”
He went on to say that he also worked closely with Ryan, McCarthy, and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady on tax reform. “I want to keep doing this,” Scalise said.
Scalise cautioned, however, that talk of Ryan’s retirement are “rumors” and said for now he’s focused on passing President Donald Trump’s agenda and working to keep the House in GOP hands.
“It’s easy to get drawn into the palace intrigue and speculation. But if you do that, you truly will lose focus on what your mission is, and that is working with President Trump to advance a conservative agenda,” Scalise said. “The stakes are way too high for us to lose sight of what we need to do right now.”
This is the week each year when Scalise brings a group of his colleagues down to coastal Louisiana to show off the offshore oil industry. He’s climbing up and down rigs out in the Gulf just nine months after being shot through the hip and nearly killed by an assassin…
With one arm snaked around his crutches and the other gripping a handrail, Steve Scalise climbed gingerly up hundreds of stairs to the peak control room of a hulking oil rig 77 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
By all accounts, Scalise, the House majority whip, shouldn’t have been here. Doctors said he was millimeters away from death in June after a gunman’s bullet ripped through his hip and pelvis, injuring internal organs during an early morning softball practice. Scalise only recently ditched his electric scooter and started walking again with crutches.
“Who’s wearing the Fitbit?” Scalise, donning navy coveralls and a yellow hard hat, joked as he neared the top, some 200 feet above water.
Scalise returned to the House last fall after several months in the hospital recovering from the shooting. But reminders of that day still follow him everywhere, including on Tuesday’s oil rig tour. His purple crutches stood out against a maze of gray piping and steel that make up the 40-story high Shell rig called Olympus. He moved slowly as rig workers showed him and four fellow Republican lawmakers the massive drill bits and wells used to extract oil more than 22,000 feet below the ocean floor.
Never far from his side was U.S. Capitol Police Special Agent David Bailey, the man who saved Scalise’s life and, along with another agent, killed the gunman. During a roundtable discussion back on shore that afternoon, a roomful of local business leaders erupted in applause when Scalise introduced Bailey to his constituents.
Scalise doesn’t have feeling in his left shin, and he can barely flex his left foot because of nerve damage caused by the bullet. His internal organs are still recovering, and he’s expecting to undergo another surgery in April.
In the interview, he talked about his three-times-a-week physical therapy. His doctors have incorporated baseball, one of his favorite pastimes, into the recovery routine, though Scalise acknowledged that he probably won’t be playing second base for the GOP team again this spring.
“It’s hard to make lateral movements right now, but if the ball came to me right now, I could get it. I could make the throw to first base … without falling over,” Scalise said, standing up and swooping down to demonstrate fielding an imaginary ground ball.
Despite his impaired mobility, Scalise has tried to return to normal as quickly as possible. After an eight-hour surgery in January, he was supposed to go home to rest but instead went straight to the Capitol amid the fight over a government shutdown.
In February, he started traveling again to raise money for fellow Republicans, as leaders are expected to do. During one of those recent events, Rep. Roger Williams of Texas introduced Scalise to his donors as the “next speaker.” (Williams’ chief of staff, Colby Hale, said the remark was “lighthearted,” but added that “if and when Speaker Ryan decides it’s time to no longer be speaker, Congressman Williams thinks Whip Scalise would be a natural leader to step up.”)
The past nine years, Scalise has invited lawmakers to Louisiana to learn about offshore oil production that support his district’s bayou economy. His guests this year included GOP Reps. Mark Walker of North Carolina, Jodey Arrington of Texas, John Curtis of Utah and Greg Gianforte of Montana.
POLITICO noted that the Reno Gazette Journal article last week in which Rep. Mark Amodei was quoted predicting Ryan would be leaving as Speaker within 30 to 60 days has come under dispute, in that Ryan’s office said he won’t be going anywhere in that time frame, but there is a continuing and building amount of discussion that a change in the Speaker’s office is becoming imminent.
Scalise says he’s not going to run for Speaker unless House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with whom he’s a close personal friend, declines a run. That’s what many think is going to happen. McCarthy has a political problem surrounding a fairly open secret on the Hill; namely that he carried on an extramarital affair with a then-colleague, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina). Ellmers lost re-election in a 2016 primary race to George Holding. Talk about that affair got in the way of McCarthy’s succession to replace John Boehner as Speaker in 2015, and lots of folks think it will be a similar problem when Ryan finally quits as well.
Scalise doesn’t have a political problem like McCarthy does. The worst thing anybody thinks about Steve Scalise is that he gave a speech in 2002, when he was a state legislator howling about Louisiana’s lousy tax policy to every constituent within earshot, to a group billed as a neighborhood association which might have included some David Duke supporters.
And while that might make Scalise a Nazi in the eyes of left-wing propagandists like Lamar White, nobody else thinks it matters – especially when Cedric Richmond, who represents the New Orleans area in Congress along with Scalise and currently chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, and is no particular peacemaker when it comes to issues involving race, vouched for Scalise’s goodwill. Should Scalise emerge as a candidate for Speaker or win the election for the post, it will be interesting to see what circumstances the fond relationship between the two would create in terms of being able to make deals on policy.
The long and short of it is that Steve Scalise is very likely to become the next Speaker of the House. We just don’t know what the timeline for that will be.