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.
House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), who had been encouraged to run by fellow Texans, announced Sunday that he won’t. “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, followed by an internal vote Tuesday morning. And all will be under intense pressure to present a pitch that can bring together an exasperated House GOP that is rife with division.
“This is my tenth term in Congress. This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen,” House 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 lost 22 votes from his own party on the floor Friday.)
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.
“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 Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) — 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.”
With the House still unable to operate, many lawmakers are getting increasingly anxious with a government funding deadline less than a month away. The Senate is also expected to soon pass its own version of President Joe Biden’s $106 billion emergency emergency aid request for Israel, Ukraine, the southern border and other issues — putting more pressure on the lower chamber.
Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry has said he’s open to a vote that would temporarily expand his powers, allowing legislative business to function again in the lower chamber. But a number of Republicans shot down that idea during a lengthy meeting last week. A formal vote to empower McHenry as interim speaker would almost certainly require help from Democrats, which conservatives argued could fuel the unrest within the GOP even more.
“I hope they can get a speaker sometime soon because it sends a poor message to our enemies around the world,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a rare television appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We also have work to do,” McConnell said. “We have appropriations bills to pass. I am pulling for them to finally wrap this up sometime soon.”