Republicans pick Tom Emmer as their nominee for speaker

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, Tuesday.
Alex Brandon | AP

Updated: 11:34 a.m.

Republicans have picked Rep. Tom Emmer as their nominee for House speaker. The nominee now goes to the full House for a vote. House Republicans were meeting privately to try nominating a new House speaker.

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. Emmer of Minnesota jumped ahead as the top vote-getter on early round ballots and was battling Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana on a fifth ballot.

Emmer has been in Congress since 2015 representing the 6th District. He has been in the leadership ranks since Republicans took the majority in January.

There has never been a House speaker from Minnesota. The position is second in line to the presidency.

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Others are dropping out including Florida newcomer Byron Donalds, who’s aligned with Donald Trump, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma. The nominee will also need to win a majority in a House floor vote.

This is a breaking news update. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Four men talk
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., center, is flanked by Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the temporary leader of the House of Representatives, left, and Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, right, as lawmakers convene to hold a third ballot to elect a speaker of the House.
J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Three weeks now since the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, House Republicans are meeting privately Tuesday to try nominating a new House speaker to accomplish the seemingly impossible job of uniting a broken, bitter GOP majority and returning to the work of governing in Congress.

In early round ballots the senior-most lawmaker, Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP Whip, jumped out front 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, where a majority vote will be needed by Republicans behind closed doors — and eventually in a House floor vote.

“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, of Minnesota, 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 is now directly battling Emmer in the fifth-round private ballot.

Others, including Rep. Byron Donalds, a top Trump ally, have been dropping out. Donalds had been a steady third followed former McDonald’s franchise owner Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, a conservative leader, who plied his colleagues with hamburgers seeking their support but dropped out Tuesday.

Also withdrawing from the race: Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Pete Sessions of Texas, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania.

The Republicans are moving quickly through first rounds, but planned to stay behind closed doors until they can agree on a nominee. Some have pushed for a signed pledge to abide by rules to support the majority winner, but holdouts remain. The plan is to hold a House floor vote later this week.

“I feel good, but it’s up to the members — it’s in their hands now,” said Donalds after a candidate forum late Monday evening.

The House has been in turmoil, without a speaker since the start of the month after a contingent of hardline 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 are mostly conservatives and election deniers, who either voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, when Biden defeated Trump, in the run up 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 hardliners 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.

Republicans gathered late in the evening Monday to hear quick speeches from the congressmen seeking the job, elevator pitches ahead of Tuesday's internal party voting. They have also heard from voters back home who want them to get back to work and appeared ready to try to move on.

“There seems to be some sort of compromise in the room,” said Rep, Nick LaLota, a more centrist New York Republican after the hours-long session.

Yet factional power plays run strong on Capitol Hill among the so-called “five families” that make up the House Republican majority.

Launched over right-flank complaints about McCarthy's leadership in budget battles, it's no longer clear what the House Republicans are fighting for and if they will end up with a more acceptable speaker.

Trump has intervened from the sidelines backing the hard-charging Jordan over Majority Leader Steve Scalise. But Republicans dropped Jordan as their nominee last week in part because of the hardball tactics, including death threats by the Ohio Republican's supporters.

“Most of these guys and gals can’t be bullied to do anything,” said Johnson of South Dakota. “You’re gonna have to use persuasion.”

Trump, brushing back suggestions that he take the gavel himself, suggested Monday that no one is capable of uniting the House Republicans.

“There’s only one person who can do it all the way: Jesus Christ,” he declared in New Hampshire.

Amid 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 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.