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Steve Scalise cobbles together support to be the next speaker of the House

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Congressman Steve Scalise wants to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, if he's able to cobble together the support of deeply divided House Republicans, he'll fill the vacancy left by the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, a political maneuver that was engineered by his own more conservative GOP colleagues. The Louisiana Republican is a majority whip and the lone major contender for the biggest leadership job in the House. This after Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan said he'll vote for Scalise and asked his own backers to do the same.

Rodney Davis served alongside Steve Scalise for 10 years when he represented the 13th Congressional District of Illinois. He's on the line with us now. Congressman Davis, Steve Scalise says he's up to the task of uniting his party and ending the chaos in the last couple of weeks, which, based on what we've seen, sounds like a pretty tall order. If you believe he can do it, how do you think he'd accomplish that?

RODNEY DAVIS: Well, I do believe he can do it. Steve is somebody who has shown the world what a happy warrior he is. I watched him lay motionless on a baseball field just a few years ago, where I thought he was dead, and he almost was. But Steve has shown everyone that he can not only recover, but he can still be one of our leaders. He's got a small group of Republicans that are recalcitrant right now. I believe that he's going to do what it takes to make sure that he secures their vote before it goes to the floor. Remember that we're in historic times. We've never had a speaker of the House, really, kicked out via a motion to vacate. So normally, a speaker is nominated in November and then has two months to garner the support. Steve's got a little shorter timeline, but I think he can do it.

MARTÍNEZ: And you were talking about when Steve Scalise was wounded by a gunman's attack on the congressional baseball game - or practice. That was in 2017. You were on the field then. So on that, he's also been undergoing treatment this fall for a form of blood cancer. Do you think that gives you at all any pause about his ability to take on these challenges, considering how stressful of a job this apparently is now?

DAVIS: Well, if Steve Scalise and his family had a pause, then I would have a pause, but they don't. And there is no one stronger than Steve and no one I know that could do this job and at the same time fight this fight that has surprised all of us.

MARTÍNEZ: To become the nominee, there were still 99 Republicans who did not vote for Scalise. What do you think his chances are of getting those 99 on his side when the real vote is taken?

DAVIS: Well, the 99 is now down to a very manageable number from public reports and private conversations I've had. And Steve is doing what he does best. He's sitting every member down, asking them what is their concern, how can he address that concern, and how can we come together and unify as a party to do what the American people wanted the Republicans to do, which is be the majority party and run the House of Representatives?

MARTÍNEZ: How manageable, how close is he?

DAVIS: Oh, it's manageable. I mean, it fluctuates. This is nothing new, though. This happens in speakers' races that I've witnessed over the last 10 years. And I served under four speakers, two Republicans and - I actually served under three and then witnessed Kevin McCarthy, who I thought was doing a phenomenal job. And there's always an effort to have to secure votes after they get the nomination in conference.

MARTÍNEZ: Manageable enough that maybe by the end of the week, if not earlier, that there will be a House speaker?

DAVIS: Well, remember, we have a very small majority. So in the end, it's going to probably take longer than it would a Paul Ryan, a John Boehner, who actually had much larger majorities - and a Nancy Pelosi.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, that's former Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois. Congressman, thanks.

DAVIS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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