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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Emmer drops speaker bid after right-wing backlash

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) arrives for a closed-door meeting where House Republicans were trying to find consensus on nominating a new speaker, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Luke Broadwater

Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the No. 3 House Republican, dropped his bid for speaker Tuesday hours after securing his divided party’s nomination, after a swift backlash from the right, including former President Donald Trump, left his candidacy in shambles.

Emmer’s abrupt exit signaled that Republicans were as far as ever from breaking a deadlock that has left Congress leaderless and paralyzed for three weeks. It made Emmer the third Republican this month to be chosen to lead the party, only to have his bid collapse in a seemingly endless cycle of GOP grievances, personality conflicts and ideological rifts.

Republicans have now succeeded in repudiating all three of their top leaders over the past few weeks.

The chamber has been frozen for the better part of a month as Republicans feud over who should be in charge, even as wars rage overseas and a government shutdown approaches.

Emmer began Tuesday with a scant victory, winning an internal party nominating contest by a vote of 117-97 over a right-wing rival, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana. The margin reflected that House Republicans were still deeply at odds.

Then immediately after Emmer’s nomination, about two dozen right-wing Republicans indicated that they would not vote for him on the floor, denying him the majority he would need to succeed in a vote of the full House. And as he met with holdouts to try to win them over, the former president issued a scathing statement on social media expressing vehement opposition to Emmer, calling him a “Globalist RINO” — short for “Republican in name only” — whose elevation would be a “tragic mistake.”

“I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors,” Trump wrote 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!”

A majority of those opposed to Emmer were members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus and loyal to Trump. Any candidate for speaker can lose only a handful of votes and still win the speakership because Republicans hold such a small majority in the House.

Only hours later, Emmer decided to drop his bid, according to a person familiar with his thinking who divulged it on the condition of anonymity before it was officially announced.

The Republican disarray underscored a new ethos that has gripped the House GOP: Dozens of members have abandoned the old norms of respecting the winner of the party’s internal elections, and instead are acting according to their individual preferences, ideologies and allegiances.

Some hard-right Republicans consider themselves a distinct political party from their more mainstream, business-minded colleagues, whom they accuse of being in a “uniparty” with Democrats.

The House has been in a state of uncertainty and chaos since Oct. 3, when rebels forced a vote to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker. Eight Republicans backed that move along with Democrats, who remained united behind their own leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Republicans have cast aside two previous winners of their closed-door nominating process — Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio — before settling on Emmer.

Emmer began Tuesday by besting six other candidates vying for the job during a series of closed-door votes. Johnson, a conservative lawyer who is a favorite of the party’s right wing, endorsed Emmer after his loss, and said he was trying to persuade his colleagues to unite around him.

But old rivalries helped to tank Emmer’s speakership bid. Feelings remained raw from a contentious race for his current post against Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana.

“I can’t go along with putting one of the most moderate members of the entire Republican conference in the speaker’s chair,” Banks said. “That betrays the conservative values that I came here to fight for.”

Some on the right opposed to Emmer were citing his vote in favor of codifying federal protections for same-sex couples. Others railed against Emmer’s vote in favor of a stopgap spending bill put forward by McCarthy, the speaker at the time, to avert a government shutdown. Still others said he was insufficiently loyal to Trump, because he voted to certify the results of the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden.

Emmer had attempted to mollify Trump by calling him over the weekend and praising him, according to the former president. But Trump made clear he had not been won over.

“I believe he has now learned his lesson, because he is saying that he is Pro-Trump all the way, but who can ever be sure?” Trump wrote. “Has he only changed because that’s what it takes to win? The Republican Party cannot take that chance, because that’s not where the America First Voters are. Voting for a Globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!”

The current free-for-all left more mainstream members of the party fuming.

“Our conference has been essentially at war with itself,” said Rep. Brandon Williams of New York, who represents a district won by Biden. He called the situation “disheartening” and reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

“Most of the country’s concerned about inflation, what they’re experiencing at the grocery store, and they would like to see Congress stand up and act like adults,” Williams said.

A former college ice hockey player and coach, Emmer, 62, currently holds the job of “whip,” the chief vote counter for the party. He has allies among both the conservative and the establishment wings of the party. He served two terms as the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, helping Republican candidates around the country win elections and making inroads across the conference in the process.

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