Tom Emmer is House Republican's latest speaker nominee: What's next?

Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., arrives as Republicans meet to decide who to nominate to be the new House speaker, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.
Alex Brandon | AP

Congressional Republicans have chosen Minnesota’s Tom Emmer as their next nominee for House speaker. The nomination is not the final word, but it is a significant development as the House GOP tries to end three weeks of deadlock over who will lead the chamber.

Emmer’s next challenge is to win a majority in a public rollcall vote that could happen Tuesday.

MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer from Capitol Hill with the latest news.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: Around Minnesota right now skies are cloudy. There are some showers and storms moving through parts of the region right now. Rain is in the forecast. Highs today mid-40s to the mid-50s in the north, mid-60s in the south. At noon in Red Wing, it's raining and it's 61. It's cloudy and 44 in Bemidji. And outside Ed Barbo's Columbia Clothing store in Downtown Duluth, it's sunny and 54.

I'm Cathy Wurzer with Minnesota News headlines. It's not a done deal. But Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer is close to becoming the speaker of the US House. We'll get more from MPR's Mark Zdechlik, who is in Washington, watching the vote for speaker in the republican caucus.

In other news. It's the first full day on the job today for Minneapolis's new community safety commissioner. Former Hennepin County Chief Judge Todd Barnette. Barnette was sworn in yesterday. He'll oversee fire, police, 911, and neighborhood safety programs. Barnette is inheriting a state court enforced agreement in a likely federal consent decree after investigations into civil rights violations by Minneapolis police. Barnette says he will focus on making the office as transparent as possible.

TODD BARNETTE: It's important, just like in the courts, just to give the facts. For me, transparency is important. Being able to just give people facts will be important for me.

CATHY WURZER: Barnette will be overseeing reforms in the understaffed police department. He said his other priorities include recruiting staff and finding the money to make required changes.

Much of southern Minnesota may see another round of thunderstorms this afternoon with the potential for hail and locally heavy rain. Then, another storm system will move into the region from later tomorrow through Friday. NPR Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard says Southern Minnesota will see mostly rain, but Northwestern Minnesota and Eastern North Dakota may see the rain change over to the first accumulating snow of the season.

SVEN SUNDGAARD: The Weather Service Office up in Grand Forks is talking about the potential that they might need to issue a winter storm watch. So we'll keep an eye out for those northwesternmost counties. And it is going to be a cold weekend behind that highs in the 30s and 40s for most of us. Windchills, we're going to have to talk about that. Could be in the single digits in Northwestern Minnesota early Saturday, teens and 20s elsewhere.

CATHY WURZER: Sven says the twin cities may see a few snowflakes mixed in the precipitation later this week, but accumulation is not expected in the metro.


CATHY WURZER: So as I mentioned at the top of the show, congressional republicans have chosen Minnesota's Tom Emmer as their next nominee for house speaker. It's not the final word, a floor vote awaits. But it's a significant development as the GOP House tries to end three weeks of deadlock over who will lead the chamber.

Emmer's next challenge is to win a majority at a public roll call vote that could happen yet today. MPR's Mark Zdechlik is on the scene in Washington. He joins us from Capitol Hill. Where are you right now Mark?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cathy, I'm in the Longworth House Office Building. This is where the republican conference has been meeting since about 9 o'clock this morning. And it is where a whole bunch of reporters are camped out waiting to hopefully talk with Speaker Nominee Emmer.

CATHY WURZER: It looks like you all are just, kind of, nose to elbow. I mean, everyone's just packed into these hallways there. What's it like?

MARK ZDECHLIK: It's pretty tight. It's pretty crowded. There's a sense of optimism here among some of the members that are passing by. Not many are, but some have. And there's a sense that maybe they finally have something that they can bring across the finish line. That remains to be seen. But there's considerable optimism, I would say, that they're on the right track.

CATHY WURZER: How many rounds of voting, Mark, took place before the GOP conference decided that Tom Emmer should be the nominee?

MARK ZDECHLIK: You're going to catch me on this, because I think it was five. I'm not absolutely certain about that. I'm kind of just treading water here in a large group of people and don't have access to all those details. But I believe it was five.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, you are correct. Our producers are saying yes. In terms of what happens from here on out will vote be scheduled? Does Emmer have the 217 votes he needs to become speaker?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well those are the key questions right now. Cathy, republicans are clearly frustrated by their inability to elect a new leader. They don't want to risk more public embarrassment with floor votes that fall short. Even one member, who supported removal of Kevin McCarthy says the next vote has to be successful. Here's Tennessee Representative Tim Burchett on that.

TIM BURCHETT: I do not think it will go to the floor until we have 217 committed.

INTERVIEWER 1: Are you guys going to have that vote today? The 217 votes.

TIM BURCHETT: I think so. I think we're very close.

INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think it will succeed?

TIM BURCHETT: We're 6 or 7 away.

INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think it will succeed this time?

TIM BURCHETT: Yes, ma'am. If we go to the floor, it will succeed.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cathy, there are some workarounds up to that 217. That's the threshold of votes needed, if all sitting house members actually vote. If some sit out, a possibility among democrats, that lowers the bar for Emmer to become the speaker and move from a nominee to the speakership. Arkansas Representative Steve Womack told reporters that Emmer has his work cut out for him between now and the floor vote.

STEVE WOMACK: But that doesn't mean he can't get there. It may just be that some of these folks called a different name, because they want to basically register a protest vote. I don't know. You'd have to ask each of the--

INTERVIEWER 2: Was it more than 20 or was it--

STEVE WOMACK: It is a significant number that he is short of 217 right now based on that roll call.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Yesterday, he said-- oh, sorry, Cathy, go ahead.

CATHY WURZER: No, go ahead, absolutely.

MARK ZDECHLIK: You were going to ask me about--

CATHY WURZER: Yes, actually. Sorry about that. This is all live, sorry, about that. No, no, no. It is-- it's all good.

So I was going to ask you about yesterday. You and I were talking yesterday. And you said that the congressman's speaker candidacy could be affected by the opinion of former President Trump of Emmer. Reportedly, President Trump's not a fan of Tom Emmer's. Have those two patched up things at all?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, they spoke over the weekend. And the former President Trump is saying that he's staying out of it, according to people with knowledge of the conversation. But that doesn't mean that his supporters are necessarily going to back Representative Emmer, who voted to certify the election. And that's not sitting well with some of them. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the former president will be doing here.

CATHY WURZER: Sure. Say, have you had a chance to talk to any democrats?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Yes, I have. Arkansas Representative Steve Womack told-- I'm sorry, I'm in the wrong spot again here. I apologize.

CATHY WURZER: No, that's OK.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Steny Hoyer came out and talked a little bit. And he said that-- he's from Maryland, and he's a former majority leader. So he knows what he's talking about.


MARK ZDECHLIK: He said he could envision scenarios where democrats would let a GOP nominee through that might be not by voting to staying away from the vote. But there are lines democrats won't cross. Hoyer says Emmer's vote to certify the 2020 election makes him more palatable than other potential speakers.

STENY HOYER: --somebody who voted to not overturn the election. The will of the people. Emmer did that. And others, you know, as the debt limit--

MARK ZDECHLIK: Hoyer's referring Cathy at the end of the need to keep the government funded and raise the nation's debt limit as warranted. Those have produced prior standoffs between democrats and republicans. Ukraine aid is another flashpoint for the next speaker and the caucus.

CATHY WURZER: Right. Say, by the way, have we heard from Tom Emmer yet?

MARK ZDECHLIK: We have not. There's a large group here, as I said, waiting for him. Very recently-- there's always security everywhere around here-- but a large contingent of Capitol Police arrived. And I'm kind of wondering if they will be his security detail. So we're all waiting.

Emmer is busy, Cathy though. He's got to get to the people that didn't support him-- more than a dozen, probably less than 20-- and see if he can change some minds between now and a floor vote. So he might not even talk to the press, I suspect, but we'll have to just wait and see.

CATHY WURZER: Sure. I know you're up to your eyeballs with the speaker sweepstakes. But there's a lot of buzz, as you know, on social media about a large bus painted red, white, and blue with Dean on the side and Phillips for President underneath it.


CATHY WURZER: Yeah. It was spotted in Ohio, presumably, on its way east to New Hampshire for an announcement. What do you know about that?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, that's my next stop. That's-- Dean Phillips is the third district congressman from Minnesota. And he has for months been talking about President Biden being vulnerable when it comes to re-election. And he says-- Well, if he's going to run in New Hampshire, which most expect that he would play hard there. Even though it's not the first in the nation primary any longer for democrats.

He has to file the paperwork by Friday. And the social media picture of the bus-- that kind of answers the question, I think. We'll find out. I'll be there later this week to see what Representative Phillips has to say about a possible presidential campaign.

CATHY WURZER: I guess, one of our colleagues texted Congressman Phillips and said, hey, what about this? And his comment was that's a great looking bus. So, there you go.


CATHY WURZER: Yeah. You're going to be busy, Mark Zdechlik. I appreciate it.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Yeah, yeah.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. Take care.


CATHY WURZER: That's one of our political reporters Mark Zdechlik. Just to give you an idea, he is-- literally, we've been watching the live feed from CNN. And he is in the midst of quite a scrum, as you can imagine, of other reporters and these narrow hallways in the Longworth Office Building. So that is why it's a little chaotic there.

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