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Republicans Select Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer as Speaker Designate

Some Republicans are guessing that as many as 26 of their own party members will reject Tom Emmer in a full House vote.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, candidate for speaker of the House, is seen outside a House Republican Conference speaker election meeting in Longworth Building on October 24, 2023.

After five rounds of secret balloting within the Republican Party’s House conference on Tuesday, the GOP has selected Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota to be the party’s nominee for speaker of the House.

Emmer becomes the third speaker designate that Republicans have chosen since the full House decided earlier this month to oust Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) from the position. Republicans initially selected Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) to become the new speaker, but Scalise dropped out of consideration after it became clear that he would be opposed by far right elements of the conference, including members of the Freedom Caucus. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was then nominated, but failed to make speaker after three ballots due to stiff opposition from more than 20 members of the GOP.

It’s unclear if Emmer will be more successful at rallying his party to support his candidacy as speaker designate. Depending on how many Republican House members appear at a quorum vote for the speakership within the full chamber, which could happen as early as this week, Emmer can only afford to lose three to five Republican votes, assuming every Democrat plans to vote against him.

Given that it took several ballots before Republicans could even agree to nominate Emmer — as well as the fact that Emmer only received 117 votes out of 224 cast within his conference — it seems likely that he could be opposed by at least a few members of his own party when the House holds a full vote. That being said, Emmer’s chances do seem a bit better than those of the previous speaker designates, particularly Jordan, who turned off several members of his party when his persuasion campaign devolved into violent threats from far right constituents across the country toward their own representatives.

Republicans appeared hopeful but cautious in predicting Emmer’s chances. In several ballots that were held, six members consistently voted “present” or “other,” which is enough to block Emmer’s ascension to the speakership, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Michigan) reportedly noted to his colleagues.

Getting those six dissenters on record over how they plan to vote in the full chamber would be important, Huizenga added, per reporting from Politico’s Jordain Carney.

“Let’s get our poop in a group, people,” Huizenga said. “I don’t want us to go out there and in front of the entire world puke on our shoes again.”

There may be more than just six who oppose Emmer, however. According to NBC News, some Republicans are currently estimating there are about 10 holdouts within their conference who are still against Emmer for the speakership. Other Republican lawmakers have said as many as 26 will end up blocking him, and a GOP roll call vote after Emmer’s nomination confirmed a number close to that total.

Members of the Freedom Caucus, citing Emmer’s votes on bipartisan bills to keep the federal government running without using threats of a government shutdown to create draconian cuts to social spending programs, also were wary of having to back him as the party’s official nominee, with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) saying he is “concerned” about Emmer’s votes on those bills.

Emmer was one of two considerations out of the nine GOP House members running for speaker who didn’t vote against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. While appealing to Republicans who represent districts that President Joe Biden won that year, it might also distance the dozens of Republicans who did vote against certification who are still in the House.

Emmer appeared to try to court the person who is likely the most upset with that vote — former President Donald Trump — over the weekend. Prior to his call, Trump had silently told his allies to oppose Emmer’s candidacy for the speakership. But after the call (during which Trump said Emmer had claimed he was Trump’s “biggest fan”), Trump relented, and said he wouldn’t endorse anyone in the race. Trump also posted positive remarks on social media about Emmer on Monday.

If Democrats act somewhat content with the choice of Emmer, it is most likely due to his refusal to vote against certification of the presidential election, as the Minnesota Republican espouses a number of far right views. Emmer opposed legislation that would lessen bullying of LGBTQ students when he was a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, and receives near-perfect marks from anti-abortion groups. (Emmer is on record talking about abortion in alarmingly racist and sexist language.)

Also, despite opposing efforts to block the 2020 election certification, Emmer has engaged in rhetoric that many still find deeply worrying. In 2022, while running for reelection, Emmer shared a tweet of himself firing a rifle at a shooting range, in which he wrote, “Enjoyed exercising my Second Amendment rights” along with the hashtag #FirePelosi.

With Emmer unlikely to win the speakership at this juncture, the likelihood of Republicans needing to establish a compromise with Democrats, which party leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) has floated before, appears to be more likely. However, it could be several days or even weeks before such a compromise is reached.

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