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Emmer faces tough road to speaker’s gavel on the floor

Some Republicans see no path to victory for Emmer, the third candidate in as many weeks

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., is seen outside the House Republican Conference speaker election meeting in the Longworth Building on Tuesday.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., is seen outside the House Republican Conference speaker election meeting in the Longworth Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, his party’s speaker-designate, was already facing some two dozen potential GOP defections on the floor when the chamber convenes to start voting in the formal speaker election. 

Then former President Donald Trump, after largely keeping his powder dry, weighed in against the Minnesota Republican, blasting Emmer as a “Globalist RINO” in a post on his social media platform Truth Social.

Emmer, who defeated Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson in a 117-97, secret-ballot vote in the House GOP conference earlier Tuesday, was ready to go to the floor as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

But a subsequent roll call vote in conference on whether Republicans would agree to back Emmer on the floor turned up 20 “no” votes, while five others voted “present,” according to a list provided by a GOP aide. Emmer can only lose four votes if all members are present and voting, with all Democrats expected to back Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., was among those concerned about whether Emmer — or anyone — could currently shore up enough support on the floor, citing clear fractures within the GOP conference throughout the year.

“Now will time change the dynamic a little bit?” Womack said. “I doubt it, because what I just saw in that room illustrates to me that there are some people that are pretty well dug in and are not going to support the current designee as has been voted on today.”

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., is seen outside the House Republican Conference speaker election meeting in Longworth Building on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans paused their meeting after about five hours on Tuesday and after holdouts questioned Emmer. They were expected to reconvene late afternoon, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Some Republicans said it would ultimately be a “family discussion” on whether Emmer would take his nomination to the floor, though Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said Emmer would like to wait to lock in 217 backers. 

Republicans were broadly uneasy about another public failure after weeks of infighting over a new speaker.

“I don’t want us to go out there and in front of the entire world and puke on our shoes again,” Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said.

‘Back to where we started’

The situation for Emmer was similar to that facing the last speaker nominee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Jordan lost 55 votes in conference on the question of whether members would back him on the floor, though that was a secret ballot and easier to vote against someone than openly during a roll call. Jordan ultimately lost as many as 25 votes during his three rounds of balloting on the floor.

“We are, again, back to where we started. This is where we’re at,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, who’s planning to vote for Trump but said he wouldn’t block Emmer if he were at 216 votes. He voted “present” during the vote on whether to support Emmer on the floor.

Republicans saying they’d vote for someone other than Emmer on the floor included more hard-line members wary of his track record or alignment with their ideology.

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who’s running for his state’s open Senate seat, told reporters he would support a conservative speaker and Emmer doesn’t fit the bill.

“I can’t go along with putting one of the most moderate members of the entire Republican conference in the speaker’s chair,” he said. “That betrays the conservative values that I came here to fight for. So I hope there’s a change along the way. He doesn’t have the support in the room right now.”

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., initially backed Jordan, and then Byron Donalds, R-Fla., before the latter dropped out after four rounds of voting on Tuesday in conference. Luna said that instead of Emmer, she plans to vote for House Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., on the floor.

Emmer “does not have votes to be speaker and I will be unable to support him on the floor,” Luna wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Similarly, Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., wrote on X that Emmer “no longer has a path to secure 217 votes” and that the conference should redo the nomination vote.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., outside the House Republican Conference meeting Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Luna and Rosendale weren’t among those on the list of members voting not to back Emmer on the floor, so it appears his opposition has grown just since early afternoon.

Emmer’s policy positions have been making the rounds in recent days, including his past vocal support for lifting the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. Emmer’s district has a heavy agricultural presence that would benefit from increased exports to the island nation, but Florida’s influential Cuban population opposes liberalizing trade with the Communist Party-run government.

Still, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., whose family emigrated from Cuba after fleeing the Castro regime, offered support for Emmer. 

“He is tough. He is smart as heck,” Diaz-Balart said. “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 Republican conference before, if we can’t get …this done, then it starts getting kind of frightening.”

Emmer has other baggage with elements in the GOP conference opposed to his past policy positions and votes.

Rep. Rick W. Allen, R-Ga., told CNN earlier in the day before Emmer’s win that he was concerned about his vote to codify federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Allen said that there was no way he would cast a vote for Emmer, who was one of just 39 House Republicans to support the bill late last year.

Emmer has also been more liberal on budget and spending issues than many of his colleagues would like.

He’s been broadly supportive of keeping the commodity and nutrition titles of the farm bill tied together, rather than splitting out the food stamp program for separate votes so that conservatives can vote “no” on low-income benefits while backing subsidies for agricultural producers.

Emmer backed, and helped whip votes for in his current capacity, the spring debt ceiling package that many in the GOP argue was a sellout of conservative principles that opened the door to spending increases. Emmer also supported the 48-day continuing resolution that has kept the government operating through Nov. 17 — and which triggered the Oct. 3 vote to dump the former speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Emmer supported a stand-alone bill last month that would provide a modest amount of support for Ukraine’s military, something that has become a litmus test of sorts on the right. And he was in the minority of his party on a 2021 vote to require removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol.

Still, Emmer has done more than many to build his party’s current House majority, as fragile as it is. 

Emmer ran the House’s campaign arm for the 2020 and 2022 cycles, and oversaw Republicans’ flip of nine seats in 2022 to win the majority. However, the “red wave” Republicans had hoped for never materialized, leaving the conference with a slim majority that has proven nearly impossible to lead. 

Emmer allies have highlighted his fundraising operation in the campaign, including raising $7.6 million so far in 2023 for the 2024 election cycle and holding 56 fundraisers for members and candidates so far this year.  

The Minnesotan’s earlier win in the conference vote came after securing McCarthy’s endorsement. 

Five ballots

It took Emmer five ballots to win the majority as eight other declared candidates dropped out or were eliminated for having the lowest tallies. Emmer’s backing grew all morning and hit 107 in the fourth round.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., outside the speaker election meeting Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Johnson came away from that round with 56 votes, while the two other remaining candidates — Donalds and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma — tied with 25 each. Donalds dropped out of the race after the vote, however, leaving Hern the lowest vote-getter and therefore eliminated.

Four GOP lawmakers voted for an alternative candidate during the fourth round. Two voted “present.”

Earlier, Austin Scott, R-Ga., became the third speaker candidate to be dropped from the ballot in Tuesday’s closed-door GOP conference vote. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was eliminated from the race after receiving the fewest votes in the first round, and Jack Bergman, R-Mich., was booted after the second round.

Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., outside the House Republican meeting Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Before voting began on Tuesday, Gary Palmer, R-Ala., announced that he was dropping out of the race. Dan Meuser, R-Pa., bowed out Monday night.

Emmer will be his party’s third speaker nominee in as many weeks since McCarthy’s removal.

Scalise ended his bid quickly when he sensed he lacked the votes on the floor, and Jordan lost the nomination after three unsuccessful floor votes last week. They too had achieved the majority of the GOP conference needed to secure the nomination, but both proved unable to convince holdouts to budge.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, outside the meeting Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Emmer’s vote tally had been steadily creeping up, reaching 100 on the third ballot, according to a record kept by House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers that the Washington Republican showed reporters. Johnson got 43 votes on the third ballot, followed by Donalds with 32; Hern with 26; and Scott with 12.

Three lawmakers voted for someone else, and three voted “present” during the third round.

Emmer got 90 votes in the second round, followed by Johnson with 37; Donalds with 33; Hern with 31; Scott with 14; and Bergman with seven. Three GOP members voted for alternative candidates, while two voted “present.”

Emmer received 78 votes in the first round. Johnson won the second-most in the first round, with 34 votes, according to a source familiar with the results, followed by Donalds with 29; Hern with 27; Scott with 18; and Bergman with 16.

David Lerman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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