Steve Scalise walked out of a House Republican Conference meeting last month and put what had been an unstoppable climb up the GOP leadership ladder on hold.
“There’s some folks that really need to look in the mirror the next couple of days and decide, are we going to get back on track?” he said, announcing he was dropping his bid to succeed Kevin McCarthy as House speaker.
Now, six weeks later, Scalise himself is looking in the mirror and reflecting on a whirlwind stretch that saw McCarthy removed by a coalition of right-wing hardliners and Democrats, Scalise’s own ambitions thwarted by many of the same conservatives, and the anointing of a younger fellow Louisianan, Mike Johnson, as speaker.
In a new interview for the Playbook Deep Dive podcast, Scalise examines the backdrop to the drama — his “complicated” relationship with McCarthy, the alleged back-stabbing of a fellow member from Louisiana, and former President Donald Trump’s influence inside the House GOP.
Scalise professes no regrets: “The way that Kevin got removed was a shock to everybody, including myself. I didn’t want it to happen the way it did. And yet when it happened, you don’t have a choice. There’s an opening for speaker, and you have to make a quick decision.”
But he made clear there were episodes in the dramatic weekslong fight for the gavel that he won’t soon forget — including the role of Rep. Garret Graves, a fellow Louisiana Republican who allegedly spread disparaging information about Scalise, including about his recently diagnosed cancer.
“He’ll tell people differently — like, I mean, in the end, we all, you know, we all make our decisions,” he said of Graves, whom Johnson recently removed from the GOP leadership team.
Scalise added: “You can read through the B.S. And believe me, you know, anybody who thinks that there are secrets in this town, there are not. You know that as the press. I can surely tell you as a former whip, more even than majority leader, you find out everything that happens. You eventually find it out.”
More from the extended conversation …
- Scalise on his fraught relationship with McCarthy: “You know, the relationship between the No. 1 and No. 2 person in the House historically gets complicated, and there’s been good and bad examples. With Kevin and I, it changed over time. But I mean, you know, like Mike and I get along great.”
- On Graves: “I know what was being said. I mean, medical opinions that were being given out were completely false. I had a doctor from M.D. Anderson, the top myeloma cancer specialist in the world, who, along with my local doctor, was looking at all of my blood work and meeting with me on a regular basis, who said, ‘Everything you’re doing is fine, the cancer is almost gone and you’re going to live a long life.’ He’s looking at my blood work. And then there’s some, you know, member, unnamed member of Congress, who’s naming somebody that might not even be a doctor saying he’s going to die in six months. That’s how bad it was.”
- On whether not endorsing Trump for president harmed him: “He and I talked during that period, and I still won the nomination, by the way, during that period with him. And he never came out against me. And, believe me, he and I talked even after he endorsed Jim [Jordan]. He said really good things about me. He cares about my health. He asked me about my health. He and I speak on a regular basis.”
- On whether he ever wonders how Johnson ended up speaker: “It’s exciting for Mike. I’m one of these people that, you know, you rip the rearview mirror off. You know, you don’t look back. You you know, you deal with what’s in front of you because you don’t have time to look back. You learn from everything you’ve done, you know, whether it’s successes or mistakes, you want to learn from things in the past. But I mean, I’m lucky to be where I am.”
- On his health: “I was having health issues. I didn’t know what it was. And luckily it got detected early and the doctors put me on a chemotherapy that was very aggressive for what I had, and it’s working incredibly well. … So if you see something wrong with your system, go see your doctor, get blood work run, and it can add years and decades to your life.”
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