WASHINGTON — Three weeks after Kevin McCarthy’s ouster, House Republicans will gather behind closed doors Tuesday morning to nominate a new candidate for speaker — their third attempt to fill the job.
A GOP civil war has prevented Republicans from agreeing on a successor to McCarthy, R-Calif. The GOP’s two previous picks bowed out after they failed to secure the votes needed to win on the floor, leaving the House in a state of unprecedented chaos with a possible government shutdown less than a month away and wars raging in Ukraine and the Middle East.
“The world is burning around us, and American leadership is necessary. And you can’t have the full complement of American leadership if the House of Representatives is not functioning,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press NOW,” emphasizing the need for his colleagues to move on and coalesce around a new leader.
“The world is watching; our adversaries are paying attention. And it does not, you know, cast a good light on the democratic institutions that we all have sworn to defend,” he added. “So again, let’s hope and pray that this week is it.”
Voting by secret ballot, Republicans will whittle down the eight declared candidates for speaker to just one. In each round Tuesday, the lowest vote-getter will be eliminated until a single candidate secures a simple majority of those in the room. But even then, there is no guarantee the party’s nominee will be able to win the speaker’s gavel in a public floor vote, which could happen as soon as Tuesday.
Because of Republicans’ razor-thin majority and Democrats’ unifying behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the next GOP nominee will need the support of 217 of the 221 GOP lawmakers.
The party’s two previous nominees — Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio — came nowhere close to that magic number and were forced to drop out. Jordan’s decision Friday to quit the race after three failed floor votes and an internal vote of no confidence from colleagues set off a free-for-all to fill the void.
Nine candidates threw their hats in the ring by the weekend deadline, including Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the GOP’s No. 3 leader and chief vote counter, who is the favorite to win the nomination. Another was the little-known Rep. Dan Meuser of Michigan, a former business executive, who dropped out Monday night, immediately after he gave his pitch to colleagues at a candidates forum.
It’s far from clear the next nominee will be able to secure 217 votes. Some lawmakers, including Reps. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and Chip Roy, R-Texas, told reporters Monday as colleagues were meeting that they would not sign a “unity” pledge to support the speaker-designate before they knew who it was.
“I’m not going to do that,” said Norman, a Freedom Caucus member.
Another hurdle is that the vote to sink Jordan empowered some typically quiet factions, including swing-district Republicans. They include Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., who switched from a “yes” to a “no” on Jordan and said Monday that swing district members “intend to leverage our votes” and pick a new speaker who’s sensitive to their concerns.
“I want a speaker who recognizes the unique interests of members like mine and the constituents I represent,” Molinaro said.
The eight candidates still in the running are: Emmer; GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson of Louisiana; GOP Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer of Alabama.; Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, who previously owned McDonald’s franchises and sent burgers to colleagues Monday; former Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas; Jack Bergman of Michigan, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general; Byron Donalds of Florida, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus; and Austin Scott of Georgia, who challenged Jordan for speaker last week.
“We have nine that have announced. We have easily another nine, or maybe 90, that look in the mirror and see the next speaker of the House,” Womack said Monday evening before Meuser withdrew. “So I would just tell you that we’ve got to coalesce around somebody.”
Several of the remaining eight, including Emmer, Johnson and Hern, spoke by phone with former President Donald Trump, who said he most likely would stay neutral in Tuesday’s race. Trump had backed Jordan, and he acknowledged the difficulty of winning 217 votes in the House.
“That floor threshold is very tough. I said there’s only one person that can do it all the way. You know who that is? Jesus Christ,” Trump said Monday during a visit to New Hampshire. “If he came down and said, ‘I want to be speaker,’ he would do it. Other than that, I haven’t seen anybody that can guarantee it.”
Notably, at a recent GOP meeting, a lawmaker stood up and said even Jesus couldn’t get elected speaker in this majority, according to Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo.
At a private candidates forum Monday night, the speaker candidates fielded questions from their colleagues about their vision for the conference and their policy positions, including how they would handle a looming shutdown and aid for Ukraine.