U.S. House Republicans mull eight new candidates for speaker in advance of votes
U.S. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., a candidate in the race for speaker of the House, arrives at a House Republican candidates forum where those running presented their platforms in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Oct. 23, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans Monday night gathered behind closed doors to hear the pitches of eight candidates for the speaker’s gavel, as the chamber approaches three weeks without a speaker.
Monday’s nearly three-hour meeting was meant to produce a leading GOP candidate, so that when Republicans vote behind closed doors on Tuesday, there will be a new speaker designate who can be brought to the House floor for a vote. Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan on Friday was cast aside by the conference after he failed to gain enough support on the floor.
“We heard tonight, a really strong vision laid out by each of them. Everybody has a lot of the same goals in mind,” said Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was briefly the nominee two weeks ago before bowing out. “We need to get moving on our agenda.”
The eight Republican men who have declared their candidacy for speaker of the House are Reps. Gary Palmer of Alabama, Byron Donalds of Florida, Austin Scott of Georgia, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and Pete Sessions of Texas.
Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania declared himself a candidate on Sunday but he dropped out of the race during the closed-door meeting Monday night.
“I came in late. I have other commitments that I want to adhere to, largely leading President Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania. And, we have great candidates,” Meuser said.
Meuser said former President Donald Trump supported his decision to exit the speaker race “based upon the situations at hand and with some of the other members that are in so as we get a strong speaker,” but stopped short of endorsing another candidate.
According to House Republican rules, any nominee must get a majority of the vote of the conference in the closed-door meeting. Because there are eight candidates, it could take a while before Republicans rally around a speaker designate.
If none receives a majority during the first ballot, the candidate with the least votes would be removed from the ballot and another round of voting would begin.
With 221 House Republicans, a candidate needs the support of 111 to become the speaker nominee in the conference vote. However, the nominee would likely need 217 votes on the floor if all Republicans are present and voting.
The GOP’s speaker designate can only afford to lose a handful of votes on the House floor, as all Democrats are expected to vote for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York for speaker.
Any Republican speaker will have to walk a delicate line negotiating with the White House and Democratic-controlled Senate on must-pass legislation like an annual defense bill, and aggressively fundraise for the Republican Party as well as protect vulnerable Republicans and expand their slim House majority in the upcoming 2024 elections.
The next speaker of the House will also be tasked with an upcoming Nov. 17 deadline on government funding, as well as nearly $106 billion in supplemental aid request from the White House for Israel, Ukraine and U.S. border security.
House Republicans have been unable to pick a successful candidate to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted in early October by eight Republicans voting with all Democrats. Following his removal, McCarthy said he would not run again, but has said the decision is ultimately up to the Republican conference.
Jordan brought his candidacy to the floor three times. With each vote, he continued to lose GOP support.
Following Jordan’s losses, House Republicans held a secret vote in which Jordan failed to garner enough votes from his fellow GOP lawmakers to continue as the nominee.
The first speaker candidate, Louisiana’s Scalise, never called a floor vote, stepping down a day after he was selected as the nominee after he realized he couldn’t reach the 217 votes needed to become speaker.
To avoid continued struggles to come together in unity behind a candidate, Nebraska Rep. Mike Flood unveiled a unity pledge Friday, urging his Republican colleagues to sign and give their support for the speaker designate, regardless of who becomes the candidate.
“I wanted to start this process, this election, with us understanding that we have to be unified to the end of it,” Flood said to reporters.
As of Monday night, all eight candidates signed the pledge, Flood said.
Damage to GOP
Several Republicans, such as Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, said that Republicans ultimately have to pick a speaker because the last few weeks have been damaging to the party.
“Hopefully, small groups of members who have stood in the way of us getting work done in the past understand how incredibly damaging the last four weeks have been,” Johnson said, referring to the beginning of the month when McCarthy was removed.
Norman argued that “there is no perfect speaker,” and that Republicans need to unify behind a candidate.
Following the Republican candidate forum, House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that all the candidates were good and that he hopes a new speaker can be picked quickly.
Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky said he supports Flood’s unity pledge.
“I think anybody asking for our votes should commit to supporting whoever wins. That’s the only way we’re gonna govern, if we become a majority,” Guthrie said on his way into the candidate forum.
“Anybody who gets 51% at the end of the day, we walk across the street, hold hands and vote for that person … And that’s the way it should be,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sparked McCarthy’s ouster earlier this month, said he thought the candidates did “a great job” in the forum.
“I was most heartened by those who wanted to advance single-subject spending bills rather than link disparate issues like Ukraine funding and Israel funding together,” the Florida Republican said.
Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana said she’s pleased to see “competition and vibrancy.”
“I think it’s important for us to govern, but I truly think it’s a good process. This institution is so broken, so only crisis maybe will help, for the American people, to make us work,” Spartz said.
She added that she has “concerns” with some of the candidates, not specifying who, but said she wanted “to give people a chance.”
Whichever candidate gets a majority of the vote will coordinate with North Carolina’s Patrick McHenry, who has been serving as speaker pro tempore, to bring the nomination to the floor for a vote.
McCarthy handpicked him for the role under a procedure established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to ensure continuity of government. It’s unclear what legislative authority McHenry has, and House Republicans last week punted on adopting a resolution that would temporarily allow McHenry to move legislation.
A range of experience
Of all the candidates, Minnesota’s Emmer is the highest ranking Republican.
Emmer has the advantage of already being a member of House GOP leadership and party insider, with connections as a former National Republican Congressional Committee head.
But Emmer, the current House majority whip, is facing criticism from the far right. Emmer did not support Trump’s false 2020 election victory claims, and voted to certify the Electoral College count.
However, he did sign onto a lawsuit out of Texas challenging election results in swing states that Biden won in 2020.
Like Emmer, Palmer also sits in a GOP House leadership position, as chair of an advisory committee known as the Republican Policy Committee.
Hern, who at one point owned two dozen McDonald’s franchises, chairs the Republican Study Committee, a body that has promoted a conservative agenda among House GOP lawmakers since the 1970s.
Hern said the closed-door meeting had a good turnout and he was happy to answer questions from his GOP colleagues. He said they asked “questions of concern about where our conference currently is and where it needs to go.”
Donalds, who belongs to the far-right House Freedom Caucus, received floor nominations for speaker last week and in January during the course of more than a dozen ballots that finally declared McCarthy the winner.
Donalds, first elected in 2020, defended his legislative record, pointing to his time as a Florida state legislator.
“I know the legislative process,” he said. “I’ve worked with our colleagues up here to get a lot of policies done.”
Donalds added that he spoke with Trump but did not answer reporters who asked if the former president would endorse him.
“The president is going to watch us do our process,” he said. “I think he’s gonna be happy with who’s gonna be the next speaker of the House.”
The former president did endorse Jordan, who co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, and struggled to win the support of more centrist Republicans. Members who voted against Jordan also received death threats and other threatening messages from Jordan allies.
Scott briefly challenged Jordan but lost an internal secret ballot on Oct. 13. Scott is vice chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, where he chairs the panel on General Farm Commodities, Risk Management, and Credit. He is also the co-chair of the Congressional Crop Insurance Caucus.
He said that many of the candidates running are similar and “there are no personal differences between us.”
“It’s just a matter of being able to do things and get the ball rolling in the right direction,” Scott said. “I’m committed to a House that operates and functions.”
Scott added that he did not specify a plan for government spending to Republicans, but “laid out a path forward for us as a conference.”
Johnson chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government, and chairs the Congressional Long Range Strike Caucus.
Bergman, a former lieutenant general in the U.S. Marines and commercial airline pilot, does not hold a leadership position on any committees or caucuses, but he does sit on three House committees, including Armed Services and Veterans Affairs.
Sessions, who has served in Congress for over two decades and was a former head of the NRCC, currently sits on two House committees.
“We’re gonna find out what people think,” Sessions said about whether Republicans would support his nomination.
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