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October 24, 2023

The monumental challenges the next speaker will face

Donalds, Emmer, Johnson, Hern

So you think this is bad, the interminable House Republican race for speaker?

Just wait until we get to the other side of this crisis.

If somebody — anybody — wins the speaker’s gavel over the next few days, this will likely be the least seasoned speaker in the post-Civil War era. None of the eight candidates for the House’s top job has extensive time in a senior leadership role or been a major committee chair.

Of course, the next speaker will be the conference’s fourth choice. “Plan D,” if you will. This comes after the Republican Conference booted Kevin McCarthy, rejected Majority Leader Steve Scalise and embarrassed Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on the House floor. Nothing like being the fourth pick for the job.

Oh, and by the way, whoever wins this position will outrank Scalise, who, by all accounts, is still stung by the fact that he didn’t even get a roll-call vote on the House floor. They’ll also have to manage Jordan, the most powerful House committee chair in decades and another failed speaker hopeful.

Also: The next speaker will become part of a power structure in Washington steeped in experience. President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries have a combined 140 years of Washington service.

That statistic doesn’t faze you? How about this one — the average tenure in Congress of the other three party leaders is 35 years. The longest-serving House Republican in this race is Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who has been in Congress for 26 years and is an extreme long shot in this race.

The top four candidates for speaker are House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, plus Reps. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). They have a combined 26 years of congressional experience.

The first task for the new speaker will be to go up against Biden, Schumer, McConnell and Jeffries over government funding, which expires on Nov. 17. He’ll have to convince House Republicans that they can’t win this showdown and should pass another short-term government funding deal. If House Republicans don’t, the new speaker will immediately preside over a shutdown and could be looking at the end of his tenure.

Also up for consideration: Hugely important debates over funding for Ukraine and Israel, a farm bill and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Let’s take legislating out of the equation. The next speaker faces a nearly impossible political task as well.

One of these GOP lawmakers will have to go around the country as a virtual unknown to convince donors that the House Republican Conference — which just wasted several weeks in pointless infighting — is worth millions of dollars of investment. He’ll be competing with Senate Republicans, who have a very favorable 2024 map, and probably former President Donald Trump as the GOP nominee. And House Republicans can only lose five seats.

Which brings us all the way back to the same question that House Republicans have faced since McCarthy was ousted on Oct. 3 — can anyone find 217 votes to become the next speaker?

Republicans told us over and over again on Monday night that they can, despite evidence to the contrary. All the candidates have signed Rep. Mike Flood’s (R-Neb.) pledge to back whoever wins. And GOP lawmakers are as exhausted by this disaster as everyone else. This exhaustion may play a role as well in helping forge some kind of internal compromise.

If it doesn’t, a number of rank-and-file Republicans could join with Democrats and elect Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry to the post on a short-term basis. That would at least get the House moving forward again.

So there’s hope Republicans can find their next speaker candidate today.

“We gotta figure out how to get our act together,” South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, an ally of the GOP leadership, said. “I mean, big boys and big girls have got to quit making excuses. And we just got to pick it up.”

Here’s one positive sign — Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Texas), who voted repeatedly against Jordan on the floor, said there are no candidates who he would refuse to vote for.

Remember: The conference rules for the election dictate that a candidate only wins when he gets the majority of votes cast. And the lowest vote-getter is eliminated after each round.

Some more news: House Democratic leadership Monday night expressed private openness to helping Emmer ascend to the speakership. Democrats wouldn’t mind seeing Emmer lead the chamber given he voted to certify the 2020 election.

House Democrats tell us they find Emmer the least objectionable GOP speaker candidate. They’d be open to helping him by sitting the vote out if they get private assurances that Emmer will fund the government at levels negotiated in the debt-limit deal and put a Ukraine-plus-Israel aid bill on the floor.

Emmer, of course, wants to win the speakership with Republican votes and has no interest in negotiating with Democrats.

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A message brought to you by RTX

Brilliant new ideas can come from everywhere. That’s why we invest heavily in STEM education, helping build a career-ready, diverse talent pipeline to tackle tomorrow’s most complex challenges. Learn more at RTX.com

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