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Tom Emmer becomes third Republican to drop out of speaker race after being nominated

Republican Representative Tom Emmer of the U.S. Congress left the Republican caucus meeting on October 24, 2023, after withdrawing from running for speaker.
Republican Representative Tom Emmer of the U.S. Congress left the Republican caucus meeting on October 24, 2023, after withdrawing from running for speaker.

Republican Representative Tom Emmer withdrew from the race for Speaker of the House of Representatives on Tuesday (October 24), the latest setback after three weeks of efforts by lawmakers to fill one of the top leadership positions in the U.S. government.

House Republicans initially selected a nominee for the position of speaker, only to swiftly disavow their choice and hastily nominate a fourth candidate. Their aim was to bring an end to an extraordinary three-week-long impasse, which had left the Congress leaderless and immobilized.

Representative Mike Johnson, a lesser-known figure, identified as a social conservative hailing from Louisiana, emerged as the most recent contender for the position. This occurred shortly after Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the third-ranking House Republican, withdrew his candidacy mere hours after securing the nomination. Mr. Emmer’s downfall resulted from a swift backlash from the conservative right, including former President Donald J. Trump. This left his candidacy in ruins and the Republican Party deeply divided.

Republicans nominated Representative Mike Johnson, a little-known social conservative from Louisiana, for speaker after Mr. Emmer withdrew.
Republicans nominated Representative Mike Johnson, a little-known social conservative from Louisiana, for speaker after Mr. Emmer withdrew.

However, by late Tuesday night, Mr. Johnson seemed to have assembled a coalition that brought him closer to securing the speakership than any other candidate since far-right rebels ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy three weeks ago. While it remained uncertain if he had garnered sufficient votes for election, he expressed his intention to call for a floor vote on Wednesday at noon.

“Democracy can be chaotic at times, but it is our system,” Mr. Johnson stated, standing alongside numerous other Republicans in a demonstration of unity following his nomination. “The Republican majority in this House is united.”

The selection of Mr. Johnson, aged 51, marked yet another abrupt twist in the tumultuous leadership struggle among House Republicans. They had veered from nominating one speaker candidate to another, starting with a mainstream conservative, then a far-right provocateur, followed by another mainstream nominee, and finally, a conservative hardliner. These transitions underscored the deep divisions within the party.

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Mr. Johnson, a social conservative who is also an attorney and former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, played a prominent role in the defense team of former President Donald J. Trump during his impeachment proceedings. He was instrumental in persuading House Republicans to support a legal brief seeking to overturn the 2020 election results. He also played a crucial role in Mr. Trump’s efforts to challenge the election’s certification in Congress on January 6, 2021.

When questioned by reporters on Tuesday night regarding his involvement in efforts to overturn the election, Mr. Johnson smiled and shook his head, responding, “Next question,” while Republicans around him expressed their disapproval.

“Silence! Silence!” exclaimed Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who chairs the Education Committee.

Mr. Johnson, an evangelical Christian, sponsored a bill last year that effectively prohibited discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity at any institution serving children under the age of 10 receiving federal funds. He has also opposed continued funding for the conflict in Ukraine, which has become a contentious issue within the Republican Party, complicating spending debates that any new speaker will need to navigate in the days ahead.

In a secret ballot vote on Tuesday night, Mr. Johnson secured 128 votes, with 44 Republicans casting their votes for nominees not on the ballot. Notably, 43 voted for Mr. McCarthy, whom many perceived as unjustly removed from his prior position. However, in a subsequent vote, only a few Republicans indicated they would not support Mr. Johnson during the floor vote, while about 20 Republicans were absent.

A speaker candidate can only afford to lose a handful of votes and still attain the speakership, given the narrow Republican majority in the House.

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This semblance of consensus emerged mere hours after Mr. Emmer’s sudden exit, making him the third Republican in recent weeks to be designated to lead the party, only to witness his bid disintegrate amidst an unending cycle of Republican disputes, personal conflicts, and ideological divisions.

Republicans have rejected all three of their top leaders in the past few weeks, leaving the chamber gridlocked for much of the month. This deadlock has persisted despite ongoing conflicts abroad and the looming threat of a government shutdown.

“It’s a rather disheartening commentary on governance at present,” remarked Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas. He added, “The American public cannot look at this situation and have any reasonable confidence in the ability of this conference to govern. It’s disheartening. I’m disheartened. I’m broken-hearted.”

Mr. Emmer’s downfall was the latest manifestation of Republican dysfunction. He commenced the day with a narrow victory, winning an internal party nomination contest with a vote of 117 to 97 over Mr. Johnson.

However, immediately after Mr. Emmer’s nomination, approximately two dozen right-wing Republicans indicated they would not support him in the floor vote. This denial prevented him from securing the majority necessary for success in a full House vote. As he sought to win over the dissenters, Mr. Trump issued a scathing statement on social media, expressing vehement opposition to Mr. Emmer, labeling him a “Globalist RINO” (an acronym for “Republican in name only”). According to Mr. Trump, Mr. Emmer’s elevation would be a “tragic mistake.”

“I have many wonderful friends aspiring to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors,” wrote Mr. Trump on Truth Social. “RINO Tom Emmer, who I do not know well, is not one of them. He never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement or the breadth and scope of MAGA—MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Most of those opposing Mr. Emmer were members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus and remained loyal to Mr. Trump.

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Merely hours later, Mr. Emmer informed Republicans in a closed-door meeting of his decision to withdraw his candidacy, according to a confidential source. He promptly exited the room to avoid questions from reporters.

By Tuesday evening, five additional Republicans, none with national prominence, had entered the race for the nomination. After multiple rounds of ballots, Mr. Johnson emerged as the winner, surpassing Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a member of the Freedom Caucus.

The Republican turmoil underscored a new ethos within the House Republican Party. Dozens of members had abandoned traditional norms, which involved respecting the winner of the party’s internal elections. Instead, they acted according to their individual preferences, ideologies, and alliances.

Some far-right Republicans considered themselves a distinct political entity separate from their more mainstream, business-oriented colleagues. They accused the latter of being part of a “uni party” with Democrats.

The House of Representatives has remained in a state of uncertainty and chaos since October 3, when rebels initiated a vote to remove Mr. McCarthy from his position as speaker. Eight Republicans supported this move, along with the Democrats, who remained united behind their leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Republicans had discarded two prior winners of their closed-door nomination process, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, before settling on Mr. Emmer.

Some on the right who opposed Mr. Emmer cited his vote in favor of establishing federal protections for same-sex couples. Others criticized his vote in favor of a temporary spending bill introduced by then-Speaker Mr. McCarthy to prevent a government shutdown. Still, some believed.

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