On Tuesday, October 24, 2023, Republican Tom Emmer of Minnesota won the internal party nomination for speaker of the House, beating several other candidates in a secret ballot. However, his victory was short-lived, as he withdrew his bid just four hours later, after facing strong opposition from former President Donald Trump and some hardline conservatives in the House.
Emmer, who is the third-ranking Republican as the GOP whip, needed at least 217 votes from his colleagues to become the speaker, but he fell short by more than two dozen votes. He also faced criticism from Trump, who wrote on social media that Emmer was “not one of his wonderful friends” and that it would be a “mistake” to give him the gavel. Trump has been playing an influential role in the speaker’s race, endorsing some candidates and rejecting others.
Emmer did not give any explanation for his sudden withdrawal, and left the Capitol without speaking to reporters. He had previously said that he wanted to unify the party and restore trust in Congress.
The House speaker race remains in chaos
Emmer’s withdrawal leaves the House speaker race in disarray, as Republicans have no clear frontrunner or consensus candidate to lead the party and the chamber. Emmer is the third Republican to fall short, after Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, who both withdrew earlier this month amid internal divisions and pressure from Trump.
The House speaker is a powerful position that sets the agenda and controls the floor. The current speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is expected to retire at the end of her term in January 2024. The Republicans have a slim majority in the House, but they have been struggling to find a leader who can unite the different factions within the party and appeal to the voters.
Some Republicans have suggested that they might vote for a Democrat or abstain from voting if they cannot find a suitable candidate. Others have floated the idea of electing a temporary speaker until they can resolve their differences. Some have even proposed changing the rules to allow a non-member of Congress to become the speaker, such as Trump himself.
The role of Trump and the Freedom Caucus
One of the main obstacles for Emmer and other candidates has been the influence of Trump and his loyalists in the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 conservative lawmakers who have been pushing for a more aggressive and confrontational approach to governing.
The Freedom Caucus has been demanding that any speaker candidate must pledge to oppose any bipartisan legislation with Democrats, such as the infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling increase. They have also insisted that any speaker candidate must support Trump’s false claims of election fraud and his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.
The Freedom Caucus has endorsed Jim Jordan of Ohio, a staunch ally of Trump and a vocal critic of Pelosi. Jordan has said that he is still running for speaker despite facing resistance from many Republicans who consider him too divisive and extreme. Jordan has also said that he plans to bring another floor vote on impeaching Biden, even though such a move has no chance of succeeding in the Senate.
The Freedom Caucus has also threatened to block any candidate who does not meet their demands, using a procedural tactic called a “motion to vacate”, which allows any member of Congress to force a vote on removing the speaker. The motion requires only a simple majority to pass, which means that a few dozen Republicans could join with Democrats to oust their own leader.
The impact on Congress and the country
The uncertainty and chaos surrounding the House speaker race has raised concerns about the ability of Congress to function effectively and address the pressing issues facing the country. Many lawmakers and observers have warned that without a stable and credible leadership, the House could descend into gridlock and dysfunction, undermining public confidence and trust in democracy.
Some of the challenges that Congress needs to tackle include passing a budget, raising the debt limit, funding the government, addressing immigration reform, combating climate change, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and overseeing national security.
The House speaker race also has implications for the 2024 presidential election, as it could shape the direction and tone of the Republican Party and its relationship with Trump. Some analysts have suggested that whoever becomes the speaker could either challenge or support Trump’s potential bid for another term in office.