Another Gang of Eight
Rep. Tom Emmer is the favorite among eight candidates vying to be the GOP’s next nominee for Speaker of the House. But is his candidacy viable?
As the House of Representatives voted to remove Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, The American Conservative reported based on sources close to the matter on Capitol Hill that Majority Whip Tom Emmer could be McCarthy’s replacement.
“The only person who could get the votes to become speaker would be Majority Whip Tom Emmer,” a staffer for a key Freedom Caucus member told TAC at the time. “However, it would take several days if not weeks to get a winning vote… Emmer seems like a step up, however we don’t know what kind of leader he’d be. It’s a very difficult situation.”
Emmer is now the favorite among eight declared candidates vying for the blessing of the House Republican conference. Aside from Emmer, Republican Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson, Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, and Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama have all launched their own bids. Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania briefly declared but backed out Monday evening.
If Emmer manages to secure the nomination, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning, the morning after a candidate forum for the conference Monday night, he will be the third Republican to receive the nod since McCarthy’s ousting.
Majority Leader Steve Scalise was the first to secure the GOP nomination for speaker, but his bid floundered amidst a conservative opposition that was calling for a change in the status quo and was concerned by setting a precedent that a motion to vacate could be used to elevate climbers in leadership. It completely fell apart when Scalise failed to place pressure on conservatives by bringing the fight to the House floor.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio was the next to get the nod from the GOP conference. Unlike Scalise, he was willing to go to the floor. Jordan, like McCarthy in January, had twenty detractors, but while McCarthy’s came from the right, Jordan’s were scattered amongst the House Appropriations Committee, foreign policy hawks, and liberal Republicans. But Jordan made a costly error in tactics by taking the fight off the floor and into a conference meeting all of Thursday. At that point, the House had only voted twice on Jordan’s bid. In the House Republican conference meeting, members considered a resolution that would have expanded Speaker Pro Tem Patrick Mchenry’s powers to conduct House business and vote on a new permanent speaker in January. But the meeting made clear that the proposed resolution was not going anywhere.
And Jordan, who initially spoke favorably about the resolution according to TAC sources, suffered for seeming to waver about his own candidacy. When Republicans returned to the House floor to vote on Jordan’s bid a third time, he received 194 votes due to five additional objectors. Shortly thereafter, the Ohio Congressman abandoned his bid for Speaker of the House.
But it’s far from a guarantee that Emmer will receive the GOP’s nomination, much less the speakership. There are some candidates among the spoilers that might have a hard time getting to 217 on the floor, but could perform very well in the GOP conference vote.
Johnson joined the race to become the next Speaker of the House on Saturday and could be a viable candidate not only in the conference meeting Monday night but also when it comes time to vote on the floor. “It is incumbent upon us now to decide upon a consensus candidate who can serve as a trusted caretaker and a good steward of the gavel,” the Louisiana Congressman wrote in a letter to his GOP colleagues.
“We all agree the urgency this hour demands a specific plan and bold, decisive action,” Johnson added. Not only is Johnson the conference vice chair but he previously chaired the Republican Study Committee, the largest group among House Republicans. With a strong, conservative voting record that simultaneously can play to the various factions in the conference and a reputation for making few enemies, Johnson might receive the nomination if it becomes clear that Emmer’s candidacy wouldn’t survive the House floor. And he could always wait in the wings and strike if Emmer’s candidacy struggles.
Donalds could be another candidate that spoils Emmer’s bid in the conference. The Florida Congressman announced his bid Friday night. “My sole focus will be securing our border, funding our government responsibly, advancing a conservative vision for the House of Representatives and the American People, and expanding our Republican majority,” Donalds said in a statement. “Under my leadership, the House will lead the charge to advance a simple objective: put the American people first, keep them safe, and make their lives easier,” Donalds later added.
Donalds was deeply involved in the Speaker’s fight in January and became the twenty McCarthy objector’s nominee for the bulk of the 15 rounds of voting. Though Donalds was a part of the twenty, he was not viewed with the same disdain as the rest of the twenty at the time, and has since made inroads with the rest of the conference by working closely with leadership and other power players in the conference. Prior to the continuing resolution that ended up passing, Donalds worked with other prominent House Republicans to draft a continuing resolution that many members of the conference liked, but met opposition from Gaetz and a few other conservatives.
Furthermore, any ill will that conference members may have had towards Donalds because of his involvement in January has for the most part been concentrated towards the members that voted for McCarthy’s removal earlier this month. The members that have endorsed Donalds up until this point are a testament to this fact. Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida, who vociferously backed McCarthy in January, has thrown her weight behind Donalds. As has Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, a Jordan objector who continued to vote for McCarthy. Rep. Mike Waltz, another Floridian, has also endorsed Donalds.
There is another interesting dynamic at play for the current crop of candidates hoping the third time’s the charm, too. As the home state of Donald’s endorsements makes obvious, there is a state and regional element to the considerations of House GOP members—something blatantly obvious and integral to our constitutional order but is often neglected or forgotten in the bean-counting politics of modern day Washington.
Some of the current candidates are from states with sizable delegations in the House GOP. Such is the case with Rep. Sessions of Texas, the state with the largest delegation in the House GOP conference. Previously, when Scalise considered making a bid for speaker, one of the Majority Leader’s first moves was meeting with Texas Republicans and asking for their support. Furthermore, Sessions, a long-time member of Congress who briefly was voted out in 2018, but regained his seat in 2020, also formerly ran the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). There’s also Bergman’s bid, which comes with the expressed support of the House GOP’s Michigan delegation, though its numbers are far fewer than the Texas delegation.
Sources on Capitol Hill tell TAC that Emmer is probably the least conservative among the candidates that have a realistic shot at becoming the next Speaker of the House. Sadly, sources suggest that might make him the best positioned to win.
There are serious concerns with Emmer’s recent voting record. Emmer voted in favor of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, McCarthy’s unpopular debt-ceiling deal with Democrats, September’s continuing resolution, Ukraine aid, and the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified the government’s recognition of gay marriage.
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As TAC previously reported, support for Ukraine could be a problem for Emmer as he goes for the gavel. “Ukraine has become a very big issue in the party. Republicans are heavily moving towards not funding them anymore. But it’s important to note that it’s because of increasing pressure from the American people. The people are tired of it. Republicans in favor of Ukraine funding are looked at very unfavorably by their constituents,” the aforementioned staffer told TAC.
Others, however, are not so sure Emmer could survive on the floor because he’ll run into the same problem that McCarthy ran into in January: a bloc of conservatives that will not vote for him in any circumstances.
“If House Republicans elect Tom Emmer Speaker, we will have learned nothing from the past 7 years,” one GOP member told TAC.