WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans picked Rep. Tom Emmer as their nominee for House speaker Tuesday as they desperately searched for a way out of the chaos they have created, but the choice was quickly rejected by Donald Trump and other hardliners, leaving it highly uncertain the GOP latest hopeful can win the gavel.
Three weeks after Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy, throwing the House into turmoil, they appear no closer to ending the bitter infighting and choosing a new speaker who can credibly unite the GOP majority, lead the party and get the U.S. Congress working again.
Dejected Republicans, many hearing from angry far-right callers pressuring them to vote against their own nominee, planned to reassemble later Tuesday afternoon ahead of possible floor action.
“We’re in the same cul-de-sac,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.
Emmer of Minnesota, who is the party’s third-ranking Republican as the GOP whip, jumped out in front during private morning balloting among a hodgepodge list of mostly lesser-known congressmen aspiring to be speaker, a powerful position second in line to the presidency.
But no sooner did Emmer win the majority vote of his colleagues than his nomination was shot down by a powerful detractor he had tried to win over — Trump, the Republican front-runner for the 2024 presidential election, who has long criticized the party’s former campaign chief as disloyal.
While Emmer won a simple majority in a roll call behind closed doors — 117 votes — he lost more than two dozen Republicans, leaving him far short of what will be needed during a House floor tally ahead.
Trump, who has played an influential role tipping the tally in the speaker’s race, wrote on social media Tuesday that he has “many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House.” But Emmer, he said, “is not one of them” and it would be a ”mistake” to give him the gavel.
Others piled on in what was, in some ways, a do-over of the Trump-Emmer feud that has simmered since January, when the former president’s allies tried to stop Emmer’s rise to the GOP whip’s job.
“He doesn’t have the support in the room right now,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., who had challenged Emmer at the start of the year. “We’ll see where we go from here.”
The House has been in turmoil since a contingent of hard-line Republicans ousted McCarthy, creating what’s now a governing crisis that’s preventing the normal operations of Congress. There appears to be no resolution within reach.
Coming in a steady second in the balloting was constitutional law expert Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who directly battled Emmer in the fifth round, picking up 97 votes. He ultimately announced his full support for his colleague.
“What we have to do in this room is unite and begin to govern again,” said Johnson.
Others were eliminated during multiple rounds of voting, including Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, a top Trump ally, and McDonald’s franchise owner Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, a conservative leader who plied his colleagues with hamburgers seeking their support. Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Pete Sessions of Texas, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania also dropped out.
Having rejected the top replacements, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and the Trump-backed Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, there is no longer any obvious choice for the job.
With Republicans controlling the House 221-212 over Democrats, any GOP nominee can afford just a few detractors to win the gavel.
“It’s going to be another close race by the time we get to one,” said Rep, Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D. “I think it would behoove whoever wins this to stay in the room and figure where they are at and whether they can get there.”
Republicans have been flailing all month, unable to conduct routine business as they fight amongst themselves with daunting challenges ahead.
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, who had voted to certify the 2020 election results, as a potential partner in governing the House.
But Trump allies, including the influential hard-right instigator Steve Bannon, have been critical of Emmer. Some point to 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.
“That’s a very divisive issue,” said Republican Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia, saying he could never vote for Emmer because of his voting record on marriage.
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.
Nevertheless, Gaetz voted for Emmer, though others who joined in ousting McCarthy did not.
Many Emmer opponents are resisting a leader who voted for the budget deal that McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year, which set federal spending levels that 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 of Georgia said she wanted assurances the candidates would pursue impeachment inquiries into Biden and other top Cabinet officials.
During the 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. His 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.