Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives nominated Steve Scalise to take over as speaker of the body, a difficult post after hard-right members of his party cut short the terms of the previous three speakers.
But the legislator, who is from New Orleans, has experienced challenges previously, including a shooting in 2017 in which he was seriously injured by a shooter who was upset with Republican members and the then-President Donald Trump.
Scalise, 58, prevailed on Wednesday in a closed-door party vote. Getting the role, which is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, will require winning the support of a majority of the House, which Republicans control by a 221-212 majority.
He was working with his team on Wednesday to drum up that support before calling a House vote.
“Obviously we still have work to do,” Scalise, who is being treated for a form of blood cancer, told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re going to have to go upstairs on the House floor and resolve this and then get the House opened again. We have a lot of work to do.”
Hardline Republicans made predecessor Kevin McCarthy the first speaker to be ousted in a historic Oct. 3 vote. McCarthy was the third consecutive Republican speaker to leave the top post due to pressure from his hard-right flank.
Scalise has pledged to unite the caucus.
“I have a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints within our Conference to build consensus where others thought it impossible,” he wrote in a letter to his colleagues announcing his run for speaker.
In that letter, Scalise blasted the administration of President Joe Biden over inflation, the national debt and policies on energy, crime and immigration.
Scalise was first elected to Congress in 2008 to represent a district on Louisiana’s coast, and he worked on bipartisan legislation to dedicate fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to coastal restoration in the state.
In 2014, Scalise was elected to become the Republican whip. He played a key role in the passage of a tax overhaul plan and a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico under Trump’s administration. He was elected majority leader in 2022.
Scalise has voted in favor of aid to Ukraine but he has not been a vocal supporter. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed Congress in December, Scalise said there was some concern in Congress about where the aid was going.
Scalise was nearly killed in 2017 when a gunman angry about Trump attacked a group of Republican lawmakers practicing for the annual congressional charity baseball game. He returned to a standing ovation on the House floor.
The experience did not diminish Scalise’s support for gun rights, and he said in an October 2017 interview with Fox News Channel that the shooting “fortified” his feelings about them.
While Scalise is broadly well-liked in the caucus and is a formidable fundraiser, U.S. media have reported that Scalise and McCarthy have had a tepid relationship for years. An aide to Scalise said they have a good relationship.
Scalise drew criticism for speaking in 2002 to a group of white supremacists founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise said in 2014 he was not familiar with the ideology of the group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, and that he regretted the mistake.
Scalise announced in August he was in treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He has been at the Capitol in the weeks since.
If he is elected speaker, Scalise will take control of the House at a time when it has a lot on the agenda. Congress must pass spending bills before Nov. 17 to keep the government open.
House Republicans also have mounted an impeachment inquiry into President Biden over allegations that he and his family have personally profited from policy decisions made when he was vice president, though they have not produced evidence directly tying Biden to any wrongdoing.
The House is controlled by Republicans, while the Senate and the White House are in Democratic hands.