Speaker field narrows to eight — but no clear front-runner after House GOP candidate forum

House Republicans huddled behind closed doors Monday night as nine of their lawmakers pitched to the GOP conference on why they should be the next speaker. 

The nearly three-hour-long meeting ended with one lawmaker, Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), dropping out of the race, but no clear front-runner emerging. 

“We had some other great candidates. This is just about making the speaker’s office be as effective as possible,” Meuser said afterward.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to have a fresh start, and we got to have respect for each other now,’” he said of the speech he gave to the conference, adding of his bid, “We came in late.”

The conference’s latest candidate forum comes 20 days after former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster and in the wake of the doomed speakership nominations of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Both Scalise and Jordan dropped out of contention for speaker earlier this month after failing to garner enough Republican support to replace McCarthy (R-California).

Walking into Monday’s confab, Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) was bullish on having someone elected to the top spot before Halloween, telling reporters he believes someone will secure the 217 votes necessary by the end of the week.

House Republicans huddled behind closed doors Monday night as nine of their lawmakers pitched to the GOP conference on why they should be the next speaker. 
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Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who was among the dozens of Republicans who refused to back Jordan’s speakership bid, indicated that he was confident a new speaker will be elected by Tuesday night.

“I feel optimistic by tomorrow night we’ll have a speaker,” Bacon said.

Asked about his votes against Jordan, the Nebraska Republican added, “I felt like there had to be accountability. That’s why I stood up and did what I did. We had a minority of the majority kick out McCarthy.”

Several GOP lawmakers expressed that time is of the essence, with a continuing resolution that is currently keeping the government open set to expire Nov. 17, Russia’s war against Ukraine raging and Israel poised for a ground offensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) speaks to reporters on his way into a House Republican candidates forum to make his pitch to be the next GOP House Speaker nominee.

“I think people in the United States, people in Nebraska that I saw yesterday they’re anxious, they’re concerned,” Rep. Mike Flood (R-Neb.) told reporters of the House debacle. “I talked to a lady of mature age I can tell was worried about this. She wants this solved.

“We’re bigger than this,” he said. “We’re bigger than these grievances that have been going on for a long time.

“I’ve been here for 16 months. I don’t want to sit in a room and talk about my feelings. I want to elect a speaker of the House, and, I think I speak for everybody in America, It’s time to move on.”

Representative Austin Scott (R-TX) speaks with reporters following a House Republicans caucus meeting.
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Gary Palmer of Alabama and others signed the unity pledge to support the eventual speaker nominee.
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Flood revealed that all nine candidates going into the meeting — Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Byron Donalds of Florida, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Gary Palmer of Alabama, Austin Scott of Georgia, Pete Sessions of Texas and Meuser — had signed the unity pledge to support the eventual speaker nominee.

Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) had earlier told reporters, without revealing who he was planning to support, “I want to hear from a candidate that they understand the value of governing, and that  a shutdown would be devastating the American economy and the American people.

“These are folks that three weeks ago some of whom we probably never might have mentioned are running for speaker,” Molinaro said of the speaker hopefuls. “So it is an opportunity for them to lay out not only their vision for Congress and the conference  but how they intend to actually get to 217.”

Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), who was one of the eight House Republicans who joined all Democrats in voting to depose McCarthy, said he wants “the most conservative” candidate to get the gavel, but like Molinaro and others, wouldn’t say who he was backing. 

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) signaled that Donalds, the only member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus in the speaker mix, would be a good pick. 

“He’s smart, he’s attractive, young, he’s been in the statehouse two, three terms. He served with my son – my son would come home and tell me about this incredible young guy,” Buchanan told reporters. 

Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), another member of the Sunshine State congressional delegation, also closed ranks, announcing her support for Donalds as well. 

“Since his election to Congress, Byron has been a true conservative champion for the Sunshine State and the nation,” Cammack tweeted. “He is a fighter who listens to the American people. He has what it takes to get us back to work and continue the business we were sent here to do.” 

“While I have the upmost respect for all of my colleagues who have put their names forward, it is an honor to support my friend in his candidacy for House Speaker,” she added. 

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) speaks to reporters as he leaves a House Republican candidates forum on Capitol Hill on Oct. 23, 2023.
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Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., speaks to reporters after Republicans met to try and decide who to nominate to be the new House speaker.

Donalds revealed before the meeting that he has spoken with former President Donald Trump about his bid. Trump had previously endorsed Jordan for the speakership.

“I spoke to the president. I think the president is going to watch us through our process,” Donalds said. “I think he’s going to be happy with who’s going to be the next Speaker of the House.”

Trump, 77, who has been floated as a possible speaker candidate himself, said Monday that “Jesus Christ” is the only person that wouldn’t face House Republican opposition. 

“There’s only one person that can do it all the way,” Trump said in New Hampshire. “You know who that is? Jesus Christ. If Jesus came down and said ‘I want to be Speaker’ He would do it. Other than that, I haven’t seen anybody who can guarantee it.”

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) shed light on what he’s looking for in a speaker but like most lawmakers Monday, he refused to name his preferred candidate.

“We’re going through people’s past votes and how they have supported or not supported New York,” D’Esposito said.

“The difference is very minimal,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said of the eight candidates. “The best thing we got going, though, we got a very deep bench.”

Hern was found to have the “most pro-limited government voting record on tax and fiscal policy” among the speaker candidates, according to data from the Institute for Legislative Analysis, a conservative nonprofit group, which gave the Oklahoma Republican a “100%” rating. 

Meanwhile, the group found Bergman to have the least limited government record, voting to ”restrain government growth only 51.61% of the time.” 

By comparison, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has a 6.67% rating from the conservative group.

Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) argued that the choice Republicans are grappling with is about leadership and not ideology. 

Rep. Kevin Hern also signed the unity pledge to support the eventual speaker nominee.

“There’s not a lot of ideological daylight between any of those candidates up there,” Fallon told reporters. “It’s just a question of who do you think’s best going to be the captain.”

Fallon, along with Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Texas), noted that they would be backing Johnson for the speakership. 

The wannabe speakers rushed to declare their candidacy within hours of a failed bid by Jordan to win the gavel in three successive floor votes last week.

The GOP is facing mounting pressure from the Senate, White House — and American public — to resolve the crisis.

 McCarthy was voted out by eight GOP members for passing a continuing resolution to fund the government on a bipartisan basis to avoid a federal shutdown.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) arrives at a House Republican candidates forum.
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The fracas has left many rank-and-file GOP members disappointed with their chosen leaders — and searching eagerly for an alternative.

“There’s a growing frustration with leadership from every wing,” a source familiar with the situation told The Post, adding that most House Republicans have grown tired of “the dysfunction.

“They all backstab each other; they all hate each other,” the source said.

Each of the speaker candidates were allotted a two-minute opening speech at Monday’s forum and one-minute closing speech, sources told The Post.

All potential nominees also had to field questions from Republican caucus members for 90 minutes during the bulk of the session.

On Tuesday, the Republican conference will reconvene to put the candidates up for a lightning round of votes at 9 a.m.

“Remember, it’s ‘sudden death,’” one source said. “The candidate with the least votes is eliminated with each round until someone gets 50 +1.”

Rep. Matt Gaez (R-Fla.), who triggered the conference chaos with his motion to remove McCarthy, said there was at least one “unifying moment” during the forum.

“I was particularly heartened that every one of the candidates said that they supported the prompt full release of the January 6 tapes to the public. So that was a unifying moment,” Gaetz said. 

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