Jim Beam column:State loses speaker’s job twice

Published 7:21 am Saturday, October 14, 2023

Louisiana lost its second opportunity in history to capture one of the nation’s highest political positions when Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise late Thursday ended his bid to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Former U.S. Rep. Robert L. “Bob” Livingston, R-La., in 1998 decided not to pursue the speakership that he had locked up and also resigned from Congress after admitting he had engaged in extra-marital affairs.

What I said about Livingston’s resignation in a Dec. 20, 1998, column can also be said about Scalise failing to get the speaker’s position.

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I said, “It’s not often that a state’s member of Congress has an opportunity to assume the No. 3 job in American government, and citizens of this state were elated at the prospects of Livingston becoming speaker.”

The nomination of Scalise to be the Republican candidate for speaker died after the GOP hard-liners who forced former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California from office refused to give Scalise the votes he needed.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that GOP hard-liners that are “taking their cues from Donald Trump” argued that Scalise was no better choice than McCarthy, which doesn’t come as a surprise. They say Scalise should be focusing on his health as he battles cancer and he isn’t the leader they would support.

Scalise needed 217 votes in a full House to get the job. The Advocate reported that many of the House’s 217 Republicans remain split along ideological lines or are angry about the removal of McCarthy.

When Scalise was nominated by Republicans to seek the job of speaker, there were mixed feelings back home.

Stephanie Grace, a columnist with The Advocate who has taken Scalise to task on occasion, said he was the best hope for a functional U.S. House. She said he would also be best positioned to represent Louisiana’s interests in Washington.

Then, she added, “And let’s get this part out of the way right now: No, that doesn’t mean I think what Scalise did on Jan. 6, 2021, and quite a few times before that and after, is OK.”

Grace said she found Scalise’s willingness to support Trump’s terrible conduct intellectually dishonest and deeply offensive. She also reminded her readers that Scalise also voted against full certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

Despite those unacceptable actions, Grace said “Scalise is the one who might be able to right the ship.”

Robert Mann, who holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and who is a former columnist for the same newspaper, expressed his views about Scalise in a post on X.

“I don’t care if he’s from my state or is my next-door neighbor. There is no defensible reason to celebrate the election of a House speaker who voted to undermine American democracy,” Mann said.

No votes for speaker are currently scheduled and some of the nation’s most important business hasn’t been done.

Israel and Ukraine need military assistance in their wars, the government needs to be funded to avoid a shutdown and something needs to be done about a wide-open border.

Newsmax reported that House GOP Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern, R-Okla., and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., are discussing plans to enter the speaker’s race after Scalise exits. Both are also preparing to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Jordan lost the vote to Scalise among House Republicans Tuesday, 113-99.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who is close to McCarthy, earlier told The Advocate being speaker is a tough job. “It really creates a challenging management” situation, he said, particularly since so many members don’t want to be told what to do and chafe at centralized authority.

Unfortunately, many of those Republicans who don’t want to be told what to do never hesitate to do whatever Donald Trump asks. Louisiana’s Republican members of Congress, with the exception of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, are usually first in line to follow the former president’s orders.

When the Republican hard-liners will quit worrying about what Trump thinks and wants and take care of this nation’s important business is anybody’s guess. It’s an extremely sad commentary on the times in which we live.