Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana sought support Thursday to be elected president as Republicans resisted rallying around their party’s nominee, leaving the House leaderless and the GOP in disarray.
A day after being nominated for speaker during a closed secret ballot among House Republicans, Mr. Scalise, their No. 2 leader, fell short of the 217 votes needed to be elected to the House of Representatives. Many supporters of his challenger, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a hard-right Republican endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump, said they would not switch allegiances. And there was no clear end in sight to the GOP infighting that has paralyzed one chamber of Congress at a time of challenges at home and abroad.
“It’s broken; we’re a broken conference,” said Representative Troy Nehls, Republican of Texas, lamenting the dysfunction and his party’s inability to rally behind a leader. He said he would support Mr. Scalise but that neither he nor Mr. Jordan had the votes. to be elected president.
Amid the uncertainty, the House sat briefly at noon, but Republicans quickly adjourned as they gathered for a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement. It lasted for hours while Mr. Scalise struggled to gain support and lawmakers aired grievances in what Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin likened to “Festivus,” a parody holiday dedicated to airing grievances.
“The momentum is with Jim,” Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee said entering the meeting. “We should stay up late. Get up early. We should be working this weekend. We should get it done.”
Adding to the drama, Mr. Trump weighed in on Mr. Scalise on Thursday, claiming he was unfit for office because he is battling blood cancer.
“Steve is a man in serious trouble, from the point of view of his cancer,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News Radio, adding later: “I just don’t know how you can do that job when you have such a serious problem.”
Some top Republicans have also refrained from rallying publicly around Mr. Scalise, instead allowing opposition to him to fester in their ranks. Mr. Jordan has not yet fully supported Mr. Scalise despite indicating his support. And Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the ousted former speaker who has a frosty relationship with Mr. Scalise, said the Louisiana Republican had overstated his support and may not be able to recover.
“It’s possible; it’s a big hill, though,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol as he entered a meeting with Mr. Scalise. “He told a lot of people he was going to be at 150. He wasn’t there.”
It was the latest remarkable twist in a saga marked by whiplash, shifting alliances and petty grudges. The situation underscored a sea change in the nature of the House Republican conference, whose members once dutifully lined up to support their elected leaders but increasingly appear to be pursuing an every-man-for-himself strategy.
The uncertainty has weighed on the House amid multiple crises, with U.S. allies at war in Israel and Ukraine and a government shutdown looming next month if Congress can’t reach a spending deal.
Some Republicans have already discussed the possibility of rejecting Mr. Scalise and rallying around an alternative candidate who could unify their ranks. Among the names mentioned were Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the Rules Committee, and Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, who was named interim speaker after Mr. McCarthy.
Anticipating a protracted battle in front of the speakers that could last for weeks, some others debated how the House could function without an elected speaker. They discussed how to give Mr. McHenry, whose role is primarily to hold elections for a new speaker, more authority to run the business of the Chamber until the internal conflict is resolved and a new speaker is elected.
Lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated with the mess, lamenting the spectacle they were making of themselves.
“This is a bad episode of ‘Veep’ and it’s turning into ‘House of Cards,'” said Representative Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican from New York who initially supported Mr. Jordan but said she planned to support Mr. Scalise, walking out of the drawn-out meeting.
Representative Ronny Jackson, Republican of Texas, compared his party’s deliberations unfavorably to a gathering to elect a new pope, where white smoke is the signal that consensus has been reached.
“If you see smoke, it’s not a speaker; someone just set the place on fire,” he told reporters.
The range of criticism of Mr. Scalise has been wide-ranging, crossing ideological and regional lines and reflecting the many opposing factions among House Republicans.
Some detractors were simply loyal to Mr. Jordan or Mr. McCarthy. Some believed that Mr. Scalise has not been sufficiently aligned with Trump’s agenda or the demands of the Freedom Caucus, even though he is deeply conservative. One member countered that Mr. Scalise was too aligned with Mr. Trump and did not respect the results of the 2020 election. Another, Representative Nancy Mays of South Carolina, criticized Mr. Scalise on national television over a meeting he attended decades ago with white nationalists, for which he apologized.
Others, such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, cited Mr. Scalise. And some complained that he did not pay enough attention to them.
Representative George Santos of New York, who is under federal indictment on fraud charges, has declared himself a “Never Scale” voter because, he said, the Louisiana congressman ignored him.
“I have contacted Congressman Scalise several times,” Mr. Santos told reporters. “I reach out and ask him for guidance and his guidance, and he doesn’t reach out? It is an abandonment of his duty as a leader. So I’m not voting for someone who lacks basic leadership skills.”
The fractures underscored the unruly nature of the House Republican conference, where lawmakers seemed increasingly driven by their own priorities, grievances and concerns rather than any sense of the collective interest.
“The fundamental problem is that we increasingly have a culture in this city that thinks if you don’t get everything you want, you can vote against it,” said Representative Dusty Johnson, a Republican from North Dakota and a close ally of Mr. McCarthy. “That’s no way to run a government.”
In private meetings, Mr. Scalise offered numerous promises to try to win over holdouts, in a scene reminiscent of what Mr. McCarthy passed through his 15 rounds of election to be elected president in January.
Mr. Scalise discussed the House rule change with Texas Representative Chip Roy, the policy chairman of the Freedom Caucus, who said he was “not happy” with the way the Louisiana Republican’s team shot down his ideas at a conference meeting. Mr. Roy also noted that Mr. Scalise had only a “thin” lead over Mr. Jordan, whom he defeated with only 14 votes.
He gained ground with several of his critics, but also lost some. He overturned Representative Anna Paulina Luna of Florida on Wednesday night by vowing to continue the impeachment inquiry into President Biden that Mr. McCarthy also ordered efforts to quash special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into Mr. Trump.
But Ms Luna hit back on Thursday after Mr Trump cited Mr Scalise’s cancer as a reason he should not speak.
“We’re going to go with whoever Trump supports,” she said.
Annie Carney, Catie Edmondson and Karoun Demirjian contributed to the reporting.