Hours after he was selected by his party’s conference to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota) dropped out of the race after it became clear that he couldn’t convince a sizable portion of Republicans to back him.
GOP members cited a number of reasons for their refusal to back Emmer, including his vote in favor of certifying the 2020 presidential election and the fact that he expressed sympathy toward the family of George Floyd, a Black man whose brutal public killing by Minneapolis police in May of 2020 sparked nationwide uprisings.
But it was perhaps comments from former President Donald Trump during the GOP’s secret ballot process that ultimately doomed Emmer.
“I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors. RINO Tom Emmer, who I do not know well, is not one of them,” Trump said on social media on Tuesday, using an acronym that means “Republican In Name Only.”
Trump then claimed that Emmer “never respected” his endorsements, adding that it would “be a tragic mistake” to select him.
Prior to those comments, Trump — who had spoken to Emmer over the weekend — had vowed not to get involved in the speaker’s race, and had even given tepid praise to Emmer.
The House adjourned at 6:43 p.m. Eastern Time without Emmer undergoing a full House vote. Later that evening, Republicans reconvened to start the process of choosing the fourth speaker nominee since ousting Kevin McCarthy from the role earlier this month, eventually settling on Rep. Mike Johnson, an election-denier from Louisiana.
Described by The New York Times as “a little-known social conservative,” Johnson defended his party’s process so far, promising to win the speakership in a full House vote that could come as soon as Wednesday.
“Democracy is messy sometimes, but it is our system,” Johnson said. “This House Republican majority is united.”
Johnson certainly has the bona fides to be the party’s nominee if the strict qualification is allegiance to Trump, as the Louisiana Republican served on Trump’s defense team during his second impeachment trial and spearheaded Republicans’ effort to overturn the 2020 election results to illegitimately keep Trump in the White House.
When a reporter inquired about Johnson’s attempts to usurp the 2020 election during a press conference on Tuesday after he was announced the speaker nominee, Republicans booed and scoffed in an attempt to fend off the question.
Despite the strong defense from his colleagues during the press conference, it remains unclear whether Johnson — who beat out four contenders for the nomination this time around — could actually unite the party and win the speakership. Although Republicans hold a majority in the House, they have only a small number of seats over Democrats, which means that Johnson (or any other speaker nominee who may come about in the next few days) can only afford to lose a few votes from within his own conference, assuming that every Democrat in the chamber votes against whoever Republicans put forward.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) failed to acknowledge that a sizable number of Republicans were opposed to his candidacy when he was the second speaker nominee, and was opposed by at least two dozen Republicans across three rounds of balloting in the House chamber. The other two speaker nominees so far — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and Emmer — didn’t even attempt to test their support, recognizing that they simply didn’t have the backing needed.
Johnson, who has a quieter profile than Jordan but a similar far right ideology, may face challenges from Republicans in swing districts who are wary of supporting a candidate who rejected the outcome of the 2020 election.
As CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona pointed out, in the ballot that resulted in Johnson’s win within the conference, 44 Republicans voted “other,” a surefire sign that not everyone in the party is satisfied with Johnson’s selection. In a subsequent ballot held by the GOP conference, a few Republicans voted against him — enough to block his appointment to the role of speaker — while around 20 or so lawmakers were absent.
In spite of the potential opposition, Republicans appear determined to forge ahead with Johnson’s nomination, and are planning to hold a full House vote on Wednesday afternoon — even as 7 in 10 Americans, according to one recent poll, disapprove of the way party members have handled their jobs as members of Congress. If Republicans fail to name a speaker soon, prolonging the embarrassing month-long drama that has brought congressional action to a complete standstill, their approval rating may continue to plummet.
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