House Republicans are getting ready to rummage through their second tier of speaker candidates for a leader this week. All nine official contenders will make their pitch at a forum tonight, but in our conversations with members and staff, four names have come up as the most serious hopefuls to watch.
Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn. Call him the establishment favorite. The House GOP’s chief vote-counter drew an early endorsement from former speaker Kevin McCarthy, who praised him on Sunday as “someone who understands how to do the job” and cast him as a pivotal influence shepherding conservative bills through the House such as the so-called Parents Bill of Rights and the GOP’s signature border security bill. However, Emmer may face insurmountable resistance from Trumpworld because he voted to certify the 2020 election results, reportedly urged candidates to de-emphasize Trump in 2022, and has not endorsed Trump for president.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. First elected in 2020, the Floridian is a fast-rising star within the hardline House Freedom Caucus and its sole Black member. His right-wing colleagues saw that as a plus when they nominated him as a protest candidate during the McCarthy speakership fight in January. “Democrats play the race card every single frickin’ second, so I didn’t mind shoving it down their throats,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, told Vanity Fair. He’s already picked up endorsements from three Florida Republicans, including members who helped sink Rep. Jim Jordan’s, R-Ohio speakership bid.
Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla. He’s one of the wealthiest House members thanks to the vast fortune he earned running a network of McDonald’s franchises. After being elected in 2018, he quickly rose to become head of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative ideas factory that often serves as a springboard for other leadership posts. In a statement announcing his bid, Hern pitched himself as a “different type of leader with a proven track record of success.” He’s racked up a suitably hardline voting record too, having opposed both the stopgap measure funding the government through mid-November and raising the debt limit earlier this year.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. The former radio host is the conference’s vice chair, but just as importantly developed some MAGA credibility by serving on Trump’s legal defense team during his two impeachment trials in the Senate. In a letter to colleagues, Johnson cast himself as a team player capable of advancing conservative priorities with a thin majority.
The extra-dark-horse candidates Five other Republicans threw their names into the House speakership ring: Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Mich.; Pete Sessions, R-Texas; Gary Palmer, R-Ala.; Dan Meuser, R-Pa.; and Austin Scott, R-Ga. Of this group, Scott drew some early headlines for jumping into the speakership race against Jordan as a last-minute surprise and making a strong finish. Bergman also stands out from others with his record of military service as a retired lieutenant general in the Marine Corps, and could emerge as a consensus candidate as well. With the exception of Scott in this group, the other four voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.