Republicans pick Tom Emmer as their nominee for House speaker as they try for a third time
Republicans picked Rep. Tom Emmer as their nominee for House speaker on Tuesday, as they try for a third time to fill the top leadership position and get Congress back to work.
Emmer, the GOP Whip and senior-most candidate, jumped out front in private balloting as the top vote-getter among the hodge-podge list of mostly lesser-known congressmen for speaker, a powerful position second in line to the presidency.
But it's no sure path to the gavel. Emmer, of Minnesota, won a simple majority of his colleagues behind closed doors, but he will need the support of most all Republicans during a House floor vote ahead.
It’s three weeks since Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy. The House speaker will need to accomplish the seemingly impossible job of uniting the GOP majority.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to get our act together - I mean, big boys and big girls have got to quit making excuses and we just got to get it done,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a conservative caucus leader.
The candidate list, though quickly slimming, was long and jumbled with no obvious choice for the job. Emmer, a lawyer, is known as a gruff hockey coach who reached out to Donald Trump for backing and was gaining on the first four ballots.
Coming in a steady second was constitutional law expert Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who directly battled Emmer in the fifth-round private ballot.
Others, including Rep. Byron Donalds, a top Trump ally, were dropping out. McDonald’s franchise owner Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, a conservative leader, plied his colleagues with hamburgers seeking their support but also dropped out Tuesday.
Also withdrawing from the race were Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Pete Sessions of Texas, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania.
The House has been in turmoil, without a speaker since the start of the month after a contingent of hard-line Republicans ousted McCarthy, creating what's now a governing crisis that's preventing the normal operations of Congress.
The federal government risks a shutdown in a matter of weeks if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by a Nov. 17 deadline to keep services and offices running. More immediately, President Joe Biden has asked Congress to provide $105 billion in aid - to help Israel and Ukraine amid their wars and to shore up the U.S. border with Mexico. Federal aviation and farming programs face expiration without action.
Those running for speaker were mostly conservatives and election deniers, who either voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, when Biden defeated Trump, in the runup to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, or joined a subsequent lawsuit challenging the results.
Some Democrats have eyed Emmer, the third-ranking House GOP leader, who had voted to certify the 2020 election results as a potential partner in governing the House.
But Trump allies and other hard-liners have been critical of Emmer over his support of a same-sex marriage initiative and perceived criticisms of the former president. Among the far-right groups pressuring lawmakers over the speaker's vote, some are now attacking Emmer.
Trump downplayed, even derided, Emmer, with whom he has had a rocky relationship, while presenting himself Monday as a kingmaker who talks to “a lot of congressmen” seeking his stamp of approval.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the hard-right leader who engineered McCarthy's ouster, has said several of those who were running - Hern, Donalds or Johnson would make a “phenomenal” choice for speaker.
What Gaetz and other hard-liners are resisting is a leader who joined in voting for the budget deal that McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year, which set federal spending levels that the far-right Republicans don't agree with and now want to undo. They are pursuing steeper cuts to federal programs and services with next month's funding deadline.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said she wanted assurances the candidates would pursue impeachment inquiries into Biden and other top Cabinet officials.
During the congressinal turmoil, the House is now led by a nominal interim speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the bow tie-wearing chairman of the Financial Services Committee whose main job is to elect a more permanent speaker.
Some Republicans - and Democrats - would like to simply give McHenry more power to get on with the routine business of governing. But McHenry, the first person to be in the position that was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as an emergency measure, has declined to back those overtures.