House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, one of two front-runners to replace retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Thursday that he won’t seek the position if Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy runs for it.
“I mean, I’ve never run against Kevin and wouldn’t run against Kevin,” the Louisiana Republican told Fox News, adding, “and he and I are good friends.”
Scalise brushed aside reports that he’s preparing a run for the job following Ryan’s surprise retirement announcement Wednesday.
“I’ve got a job right now as the House majority whip and there’s a lot more we need to do,” Scalise said.
Scalise, who rose to national prominence while undergoing a dramatic recovery after being shot by a gunman during a morning softball practice last year, expressed interest in the speakership in an interview with Politico last month, saying he “wouldn’t rule it out,” and has “shown interest in the past at moving up.”
Since then, Scalise has deflected questions about his interest in the job and turned his attention to the need for Republicans to hold on to control of the House. Instead, Scalise warned, “We need to stay focused on getting our job done and keeping the majority, because if we lose focus of that, Nancy Pelosi will be speaker, and I think we know how devastating that would be for our country.”
Scalise also took the chance to push back against supporters touting him as a more conservative candidate for Speaker, saying, “Well look, I don’t make up titles, and you know, I’ve got a long record as a conservative who’s fought to advance a more conservative agenda. Kevin’s a conservative, too.”
A leadership source told CNN on Thursday that that Scalise’s intention is “to be ready” in the case that McCarthy isn’t. McCarthy had previously run for speaker in 2015 to replace the retiring John Boehner, before abruptly withdrawing from the race.
Ryan acknowledged Scalise’s comments later Thursday as a sign of unified leadership.
“I was encouraged that Steve Scalise said this morning that he thinks, you know, that after the election that Kevin McCarthy ought to be the person to replace me after the elections,” Ryan said later Thursday, “I think that is encouraging because what it shows you is that we have an intact leadership team that supports each other that is all heading into the right direction.”
Ryan additionally pushed back hard on questions about whether maintaining his speakership until January is truly tenable, attempting to downplay rumblings otherwise within his own party as minor and playing up his fundraising prowess.
“I’ve talked to a lot of members – a lot of members – who think that it’s in all our best interest for this leadership team to stay in place and run through the tape,” Ryan said, ready with specifics of the amounts of money that he raised and how it has shattered fundraising records. “It is obviously in our interest to keeping our majority that every player is on the field fighting for this majority, raising for this majority and it makes no sense to take the biggest fundraiser off the field and I think almost all our members see it that way as well.”
CNN’s Lauren Fox contributed to this report.