Republicans Weigh Whether to Carry Latest House Speaker Nominee to Term or Abort

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) barely won the nomination at 1 p.m. after 5 rounds of voting. By 3 p.m., reports surfaced that his bid was "on the verge of collapse."

Republicans Weigh Whether to Carry Latest House Speaker Nominee to Term or Abort
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) shake hands. Photo:Nathan Howard (Getty Images)

After five rounds of blind voting on Tuesday that felt like an episode of the nastiest reality TV show on daytime television, House Republicans narrowly selected Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) as their nominee for Speaker. We’re coming up on three long weeks without a Speaker and thus three long weeks of total impotency in the House. And I regret to inform you that we’ve still got a long way to go before this thing’s over—if it ever is.

By Monday, nine different House Republicans had tossed their white, male, sexagenarian hats in the ring, and bright and early Tuesday morning, we were down to just eight (Mitt Romney lookalike Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) dropped out during Monday night’s candidate forum). Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) withdrew his candidacy early Tuesday, and from there, candidates continued to fall like flies with each ballot vote, which saw the person with the least votes eliminated. Down to Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Mike Johnson (R-La.), and Emmer, Donalds backed out ahead of the fifth ballot, which set up a two-man race between Emmer and Johnson—with Emmer finally receiving the 109 majority (of 221 House Republicans) necessary to become nominee.

To become Speaker, the nominee can’t lose more than four votes from the rest of the caucus. Yet, comically enough, throughout the five ballots Tuesday morning, a handful of Republicans repeatedly voted for non-nominees or “present.”

Punchbowl News reports that Emmer’s camp was confident he’d win the party nomination within two to three votes, and it’s only gone rougher from there. In a roll call vote, 26 members didn’t vote for Emmer—mind you, that’s more holdouts than Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had last week. Most of these 26, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus, voted for Jordan at the roll call. Shortly after the roll call vote around 1 p.m., Emmer reportedly declared that they should stay in the room until he can get to 217, which honestly sounds like a hostage situation.

Within hours of winning the nomination, Emmer’s Speakership is already on the rocks, per multiple reports. Around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, CNN’s Melanie Zanona wrote that his “speakership bid [is] on the verge of collapse” while Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman wrote that it’s “in big trouble.” (In other words, within two hours of Emmer’s nomination, Republicans are already debating if they should get rid of him.)

For context, Emmer is regarded as more of a moderate Republican, and he currently has a target on his back among more aggressively pro-Trump House members following reports that he warned Republican candidates to distance themselves from Trump. (Emmer denies this.) Zanona further reported that far-right members take issue with his record on “social issues.” By Tuesday afternoon, former President Trump weighed in to blast Emmer as a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only).

But the idea that Emmer is a ~reasonable~ Republican by any stretch of the imagination is a complete fantasy. In 2020, the man signed onto a lawsuit to overturn the election results in key swing states Trump lost. Sure, he voted to codify a right to same-sex marriage, but he’s also repeatedly voted against abortion rights. Still, Emmer’s vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, in particular, is a source of tension among his more conservative opponents, including Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), who told CNN on Tuesday he would not vote for Emmer because of this.

Funnily enough, one thing Emmer does seem to have going for him is the support of both Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the far-right goon responsible for McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) ousting as Speaker earlier this month. Gaetz was reportedly “quietly helping” Emmer win votes throughout the five ballots and voted for Emmer during the roll call. Emmer may be the rare bridge between Gaetz and McCarthy’s two worlds…but their blood feud remains strong: Just last week McCarthy openly admitted to “screaming” at Gaetz during a heated internal caucus meeting, telling reporters, “I think the entire conference screamed at him … The whole country I think would scream at Matt Gaetz right now.”

As House Republicans move forward (or whatever it is they’re doing) with Emmer, there’s cold comfort in hearing that they also hate themselves as much as the rest of us hate them. McCarthy recently called the caucus’ inability to select a Speaker “embarrassing” for the party and “for the nation” on Tuesday, swiping at Gaetz and the seven other Republican members who ousted him: “It’s frustrating because it’s just a few, these eight, working with all the Democrats to ruin the reputation of the Republicans.” Last week Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), who was also running for Speaker on Monday, said the ongoing Speaker circus “makes us [Republicans] look like a bunch of idiots.” He said it, not me!

Per some reports, there are some House Democrats that could be moved to not vote at all, diplomatically handing the Speaker gavel to Emmer, who they see as a better option than, say, Jordan—especially if Emmer commits to certain promises around the federal budget to avert a government shutdown next month. Of course, striking such deals with Democrats could also cost Emmer the Speakership as it cost McCarthy.

All of that’s to say, yes, House Republicans have tenuously chosen Emmer, but this is clearly far from over. I am struck, yet again, by the nasty, catty, reality TV-like nature of this whole process—the shady interviews, the backdoor deals, the cutthroat voting, and brutal eliminations. It’s giving something between America’s Next Top Model and Survivor but with older, uglier, poorly dressed contestants. The best thing I can bring myself to say about all the many failed Speaker candidates is they’re all 60+ years old and camera trained—which makes them perfect candidates for the next season of Golden Bachelor. So, there’s that!

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