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Hern out of speaker race, endorses Johnson

House Republicans are back to square one after Majority Whip Tom Emmer's bid ended hours after his nomination

Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., candidate for speaker, is seen in a House Republican Conference meeting in Longworth Building on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.
Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., candidate for speaker, is seen in a House Republican Conference meeting in Longworth Building on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Shortly after filing to make another run for speaker, Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., dropped out and instead endorsed Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.

Hern told reporters of his plans shortly after Republicans began meeting behind closed doors Tuesday evening for yet another candidate forum, where GOP conference members get a chance to ask questions of each of the candidates.

“It’s gotten to a point where it’s gotten crazy. This is more about people right now, and it should be about America, America’s greatness,” Hern said. “For that, I stepped aside and threw all my support behind Mike Johnson, I think he’d make a great speaker. He’s a great human being, he’d be a person that everybody can trust.”

Six Republicans filed to run for speaker on Tuesday evening, including three new candidates who were not considered in an internal election earlier in the day when Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer was selected as the nominee before dropping out hours later.

Tennessee Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Mark E. Green and Texas Rep. Roger Williams all filed to run for the first time. They joined Florida Rep. Byron Donalds as well as Hern and Johnson, who were candidates considered in Tuesday’s first election.

Hern’s departure makes it, for now, a five-person race.

Johnson came in second behind Emmer in the earlier conference election Tuesday.

After the candidate forum Tuesday evening, the plan was to roll straight into nomination speeches and voting, according to a source familiar with the plans. House leaders announced no votes would be scheduled for the floor on Tuesday.

Emmer, the House majority whip, ended his bid to become speaker just hours after receiving the conference’s backing amid opposition from allies of former President Donald Trump and supporters of the conference’s last pick for the role, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan. 

Emmer was selected by the conference on the fifth ballot Tuesday in a 117-97 vote over Johnson, the conference’s vice chairman. 

However, shortly after securing the conference’s backing, 25 members of the conference either said they would not vote for Emmer on the floor, or voted “present,” during an internal roll call vote following his win. 

That number increased throughout the day, and Emmer told the conference during a 4 p.m. meeting that he would no longer be pursuing the speakership.

‘Left flank of our conference’

One of the members standing in Emmer’s way was his former rival for the whip job, Indiana’s Jim Banks. 

“The left flank of our conference blocked Speaker-designee Jim Jordan then nominated the single most liberal member of leadership to continue business as usual in Washington,” Banks said in a Tuesday statement. “They are holding our conference hostage and pushing Republicans to betray our voters and abandon our promises to the American people.” 

And that was before Trump released a blistering statement on his social media platform, Truth Social, encouraging his supporters to vote against Emmer. 

“Voting for a globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!” Trump posted. 

It appeared Trump’s statement — and the wider feeling of the tide turning against Emmer Tuesday — had an effect. Reps. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida and Matt Rosendale of Montana both supported Emmer during the internal midday roll call according to a list provided by a GOP aide, but later changed their tune. 

Emmer “does not have votes to be speaker and I will be unable to support him on the floor,” Luna said on X, formerly known as Twitter. She said she would ask Green to enter the race and that she thought Hern could also be a good candidate.

Emmer allies had highlighted his experience as whip and running the party’s campaign arm during his speaker campaign, arguing he had connections across the conference and could unify during a perilous time.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., praised Emmer Tuesday as “tough” and “smart as heck” and said that if Emmer couldn’t reach 217, the path forward for Republicans is scary. 

“It’s getting to the point that if you can’t get Emmer, who has the relationships, the respect, who’s been elected by the conference before, if we can’t get … this done, then it starts getting kind of frightening,” he said.  

It’s been three weeks since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., lost his job when eight Republicans joined with Democrats to vacate the speakership. The party will now look for its fourth speaker designate since McCarthy had been removed, with Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La; Jordan and Emmer all unable to attain the 217 votes needed to win the gavel. 

Johnson is an early leader in the next iteration of the conference’s internal selection process. According to records kept by the House historian’s office, there’s never been a speaker and majority leader from the same state, something which could hinder Johnson’s chances given House Majority Leader Steve Scalise also represents Louisiana.

Hern and Donalds were the next two highest vote-getters earlier Tuesday before Emmer secured the conference’s nomination.

Other candidates during round three of the party’s speakership voting were Austin Scott, R-Ga.; Jack Bergman, R-Mich.; and Pete Sessions, R-Texas. 

One of the issues that gave Emmer trouble was fiscal policy. Hard-liners didn’t like his support for the spring debt limit deal with higher spending caps than they wanted; they also criticized his backing of McCarthy’s 48-day continuing resolution to keep the government operating. In addition, Emmer voted for stand-alone Ukraine security assistance.

On those votes, the remaining five speaker candidates have some differences.

All except Donalds voted for the debt limit suspension package; while all except Fleischmann, who is chairman of the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee, and Donalds voted against the stopgap funding measure. Donalds was absent for the CR vote, while Fleischmann voted “yea.”

On the Ukraine aid bill, only Fleischmann supported it.

One issue which unites the candidates is their opposition to certifying the 2020 election results. All voted to reject the Arizona and Pennsylvania electors who helped deliver the White House to President Joe Biden.

Paul M. Krawzak and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.