The House GOP’s enormous speaker field is officially set, with nine Republicans seeking to somehow unify their splintered party after almost three weeks without a leader.
It’s the most crowded field since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s fall 19 days ago. The latest round of candidates includes current GOP leaders — like Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Vice Chair Mike Johnson (R-La.) — as well as more surprising rank and file members like Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.). Another last-minute addition, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), who serves as GOP policy chair, raised eyebrows on Sunday.
But it’s far from clear any of the current aspirants will be able to get the 217 votes needed to officially claim the speaker’s gavel. And as Republicans face the threat of another week of self-inflicted drama, their paralysis has left them drawing closer to a mid-November government funding deadline but unable to take up legislation to avert a shutdown.
“Any one of those, I think, could get very close to 217. But the question is which one of those can actually cross the finish line,” Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) told POLITICO, referring to candidates like Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Johnson.
Underscoring the challenges, some Republicans are already subtly looking ahead to the next round. Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), who had been encouraged to run by fellow Texans, announced Sunday that he won’t—for now.
“I’m standing down for this round,” Arrington told POLITICO. “Hope we get there.”
The full GOP conference will hear from all nine members on Monday night for a candidate forum. And all will be under intense pressure to present a pitch that can bring together an exasperated House GOP that is rife with division. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) nodded to the greater conference dynamics in a Sunday letter announcing his bid.
“Throughout my life, I have been a fervent proponent for teamwork and the greater good over individual gain,” Meuser said.
Republicans will then vote behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, where they are expected to slowly whittle down the nine candidates through multiple rounds of voting to two final choices. Whoever ultimately wins a majority in that final round will become the conference’s third speaker-designee since McCarthy was ousted earlier this month.
The protracted fight sparked fresh grumbling heading into Monday’s candidate forum.
“This is my tenth term in Congress. This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen,” Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told ABC News on Sunday. “We’re essentially shut down as a government.”
McCarthy, who was stripped of the gavel earlier this month after working with Democrats to avert a shutdown, also called the chaos “embarrassing” for the party and the country, stressing the need to elect Emmer — his No. 3 deputy — next week.
“He sets himself head and shoulders above all those others who want to run,” McCarthy said of Emmer on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We need to get him elected this week and move on, and bring not just this party together but focus on what this country needs most.”
Each of the candidates will face the near-impossible task of succeeding in both an internal vote and then a tricky floor vote that doomed the party’s last pick for speaker, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), after three rounds. When the vote comes to the floor, the GOP’s speaker pick can only afford to lose four of its own members. (Jordan started out with 20 GOP defections on the floor, only to watch that number climb to 25 by the third round — with the threat of more if he had gone to a fourth ballot.)
But first, the candidates will need to win the House GOP’s internal vote — no easy feat with nine candidates in the ring.
McCarthy agreed that it will be an “uphill battle” for Emmer to secure the requisite support, but stressed the majority whip “is the best person for the job,” citing his legislative experience and political experience as a party leader.
Emmer, though, runs into one major problem with the GOP’s base: Former president Donald Trump and his allies oppose his bid. It’s a throwback to the whip’s race, where the Minnesota Republican found himself at odds with Donald Trump Jr.
“This is not a time for a learning experience as speaker,” McCarthy said. “Tom would be able to walk into the job and do it.”
Meanwhile, the most junior candidate — second-term Donalds — insisted on Sunday that his lack of experience could actually help create “unity in the conference.” Speaking to Fox News, Donalds said any GOP cohesion would “start with a fresh voice in leadership.”
Donalds already has supporters in two key camps — within the House Freedom Caucus and parts of the sizable Florida delegation. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of the holdouts against Jordan, quickly endorsed Donalds’ speaker bid. Meanwhile, Hern leads the largest of the so-called “five families” within the GOP conference — the Republican Study Committee — and guesstimated Sunday that he had conducted roughly 200 calls with more planned.
“I’ll be throwing my support behind Byron Donalds in this round,” said Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) on Fox News, adding that the two-term Donalds would be a great national figure and fundraiser for Republicans. He opposed Jordan on all three ballots last week.
If Republicans don’t think they get to 217, Hern said, “then we ought to just get the gavel to Hakeem Jefferies so we just got to work hard.”
Republicans haven’t yet said how quickly they will go to the floor for a vote. Some are pushing to wait until whoever their next nominee is has secured 217 votes to avoid another messy public fight. But not all of the candidates have endorsed a pledge to back the eventual speaker designee, leaving open the possibility that a minority of House Republicans could block whoever emerges on Tuesday.
It’s a dynamic that has sown frustration among House Republicans. It also fed some of the opposition to Jordan, where holdouts faced an intense pressure campaign but were reluctant to take a step they viewed as rewarding the group that ousted McCarthy.
“There are way too many free agents, not enough truly team players,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), one of the Republicans who opposed Jordan, adding that the “speaker’s race is just one manifestation” of that dynamic.
Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.
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