House Republicans on Tuesday picked Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota as their new speaker nominee, though it remains unclear whether he can lock down the votes needed to ultimately win the gavel.
The voting took place behind closed doors via secret ballot, and Emmer, the House majority whip, prevailed over a crowded field of candidates. Pressure is intensifying on House Republicans to elect a new speaker three weeks after the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The stakes are high and the House is in a state of paralysis. But Emmer still faces major challenges ahead.
McCarthy is backing Emmer, delivering an early boost to his candidacy. But the Minnesota Republican will have an uphill battle as he faces a deeply divided GOP conference and a very narrow majority. Winning a majority of the conference to become the speaker nominee is a lower bar to clear than what’s needed to win the gavel on the floor, which requires a majority of the full chamber.
Emmer, who voted to certify the 2020 election, has also faced criticism from some allies of former President Donald Trump. Despite a cordial phone call with the former president over the weekend, Trump reposted attacks against the House GOP whip on Truth Social Monday night.
Leaving a GOP conference meeting Monday night, Emmer told CNN, “We have a good relationship,” when asked about Trump.
With multiple candidates in the running, members cast a series of successive secret ballots on Tuesday with the candidate with the fewest number of votes in each round dropped from the race. The other candidates who had been in the running were: Reps. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Byron Donalds of Florida, Austin Scott of Georgia, Jack Bergman of Michigan and Pete Sessions of Texas.
Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama withdrew from the race Tuesday morning as Republicans met to cast votes for a nominee.
House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole said on Tuesday that he had more optimism that Republicans will be able to coalesce around a candidate after weeks of “bloodletting.”
“I think people are kind of exhausted a little bit, and the bloodletting is about to stop,” said Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. “I think we’re gonna rally around somebody and have a really good candidate.”
Asked about some hardliners who have been mum when asked if they’d back Emmer if he were the nominee, Cole said at some point members have to decide enough is enough.
“If you want to be in the doghouse forever, this is about as good a way as I know to get there,” he said. “This is a time for people to rally together and get behind whoever wins the majority vote in the conference.”
Republicans gathered on Monday for the candidate forum also behind closed doors. Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, who had been in the running, dropped his bid.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas told CNN’s Manu Raju on Monday, “It’s going to be very difficult, but we have to get there,” when asked how concerned he is that no candidate can get 217 votes on the floor.
And GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida warned that if the eventual nominee can’t get to 217 votes on the floor, the conference may have to work with Democrats.
“It’s, it’s not good. Because a lot of people are gonna want to – with a mind set out there, they don’t want to work with Democrats, but it might end up to be a point where that’s the only way,” Buchanan said. “We’ve got to get the government open. People are very angry, upset.”
This story has updated with updated with additional information and developments.