WASHINGTON (AP) — For Republicans, it’s a question with no clear answer: Who becomes House speaker after Kevin McCarthy?
It’s not at all certain that any of the GOP candidates will be able to round up enough votes — 218, if all lawmakers are present and voting — to ascend to one of the most powerful positions in government, second in line to the presidency.
Two longtime party stalwarts and hard-liners, Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, have begun making their case though phone calls and texts to colleagues.
With the House trying to pick a new leader as soon as next week, others are waiting in the wings, including Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, who as chair of the Republican Study Committee leads the largest faction of Republicans in the chamber.
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McCarthy’s chaotic election as speaker in January took 15 punishing rounds and left him in a weakened position that contributed to his unprecedented downfall. Now, top Republicans want party members to work it out behind closed doors before a floor vote.
“Look, just like in January where you had all the circus on the House floor, I think this is circus-like and chaotic right now,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Republicans on Tuesday plan to kick off the process, in private, at an evening forum where candidates can address their colleagues. Republicans would vote on an endorsement, with only a majority tally needed. But a decision could be delayed.
Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024, is in talks to visit Capitol Hill next week, most likely for that candidate forum, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity before an official announcement.
The real contest could come as soon as Wednesday when the House next convenes. But that attempt to elect a speaker could easily be delayed if there is no consensus choice by then.
Democrats will also vote, but Republicans have a slim majority and hold the power to choose the next speaker. Don’t expect a crossover or nonpartisan candidate.
A look at the lawmakers vying to be speaker and the demands they are already facing from some Republicans:
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana
Scalise, now the top-ranking Republican in the House, is seen as an ardent conservative. He would be a logical pick for many Republicans. He brings years of experience in leadership. Scalise was majority whip from 2014-2018 and minority whip from 2019-2022.
He is dealing with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, and undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The toll of the treatments has been obvious as he makes his way around the Capitol. That is raising questions for some about whether Scalise can take on the demanding role of speaker, which usually entails a nearly nonstop schedule of fundraisers and campaign events.
But Scalise has a reputation as a fighter and has told reporters he feels great. He was shot and suffered an injury to his hip in 2017 when an attacker fired on lawmakers on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Scalise endured lengthy hospitalizations, multiple surgeries and a painful rehabilitation.
“I firmly believe this Conference is a family. When I was shot in 2017, it was Members of this Conference who saved my life on that field,” he wrote in a letter announcing his bid for speaker.
Both moderate Republicans, such as Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, and far-right lawmakers, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, have spoken favorably about the potential of Scalise leading the House, creating the possibility that his candidacy could unite the party’s feuding factions.
Looming large over the race for speaker is a possible endorsement from Trump.
Scalise has hewed closely to Trump’s lies about the presidential election being stolen from him, and was among the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election win.
He’s also long faced scrutiny over a 2002 speech to a Louisiana gathering of white nationalists — a decision that in 2014 Scalise said he was misinformed about and regretted.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio
Jordan, a founder of the House Freedom Caucus, is likely to be the favored choice of the hard-line conservatives now driving the Republican Conference. The Judiciary Committee’s leader has played a key role in Republicans’ impeachment inquiry of Biden.
The Ohio Republican, first elected in 2007, had tried to help McCarthy’s ultimately doomed effort to hold Republicans together. Jordan had been a key McCarthy advocate since Republicans regained the majority.
Jordan, 59, was also one of Trump’s closest allies when Trump was president. Trump even awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom five days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
“I feel like I can unite the conservative voters across the country and reach out to the moderates in our conference as well,” Jordan told reporters Wednesday.
He is leading the push against the “weaponization” of the Justice Department, which has brought several cases against Trump. Jordan was one of Trump’s chief defenders on the Judiciary Committee during Trump’s two impeachments.
Perhaps most significantly, Jordan worked closely with Trump and White House aides in the weeks and days before the Capitol riot, strategizing about how Congress could help Trump overturn his loss to Biden. Jordan also refused to comply with subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack as lawmakers tried to gather more information about his role.
Jordan once coached wrestling at Ohio State, and former wrestlers said in 2018 that he turned a blind eye to complaints that a now-dead team doctor was sexually abusing the athletes. Jordan has denied those allegations.
Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla.
Hern leads the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative group in the House, and has a reputation as a policy-focused lawmaker.
Compared with Scalise and Jordan, Hern, 61, has not been in the House for long, elected in 2018. But he points to his experience in the business world — he made millions as a McDonald’s franchisee and was part of its national leadership team — as an asset.
“I think you have to have a different set of skill sets,” Hern told reporters this week. He added: “Strife is something that’s common when you have people working together and finding common solutions for it takes experience.”
During the January speaker contest, Hern was one of the alternatives nominated by holdout conservatives as an alternative to McCarthy.
Hern was one of the 147 Republicans to vote against certifying the 2020 election.
Republicans are digging in for a long contest to choose a speaker. Democrats are uniting around Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York as their choice for speaker, just as they did in January.
Several far-right Republicans have pointed out that the speaker does not have to be a House member and suggested naming Trump or one of his close allies to the job. Such a move would be without precedent, and Trump has made it clear he’s focused on winning the presidency.
What demands are Republicans making to the candidates?
One of the many factors that led to McCarthy’s downfall was the multitude of promises — some seemingly conflicting and contradictory — that he was forced to make as he tried to pass legislation and hold together the party’s narrow majority. So the promises made by the next speaker will be closely watched.
Gaetz singlehandedly set in motion McCarthy’s ouster by filing a “motion to vacate” under a change to House rules. Some Republicans say the one-person threshold was a grave mistake and want the rule set at a higher number before the next speaker takes charge.
But changing House rules in the middle of a session could prove a tall order and hard to accomplish without Democratic support.
Other hard-line Republicans are readying their demands as well. Some were eyeing steep spending cuts as well as targeting some federal agencies and officials, including defunding special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutions of Trump.