Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s speaker bid lasted only four hours before he dropped out in the face of steadfast opposition from a number of right-wing members of the House Republican conference.
Mr Emmer won the nomination on Tuesday for speaker after five rounds of internal voting, but it quickly became clear that he wouldn’t reach the 217 votes needed on the floor of the House.
Mr Emmer and Rep Mike Johnson were the final two in the internal ballot after Rep Kevin Hern was booted in the fourth round and Rep Byron Donalds dropped out voluntarily.
Shortly after Mr Emmer received the backing of fellow Republican congressmen, former President Donald Trump – who had spent the day sitting in a New York courtroom where he is accused of fraud – launched a furious attack on him.
Mr Trump wrote on his social media platform: “I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors. 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!”
He added: “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? 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!”
Mr Emmer, who joined the House after winning his seat in 2014 after spending six years in the state legislature and losing a tight race for Minnesota governor in 2010, won the first round of voting for the speaker nomination after receiving 78 votes, with Mr Johnson coming in second with 34 votes.
Mr Emmer’s lead grew in the second round, gaining 12 votes. Mr Johnson remained in second, gaining three votes. In the third ballot, Mr Emmer got 100 votes, 107 on the fourth, and finally 117 on the fifth.
The GOP spent hours behind closed doors in a candidate forum on Monday night.
Nine candidates put themselves forward as possible options – Mr Donalds, Mr Johnson, Jack Bergman, Mr Hern, Dan Meuser, Gary Palmer, Pete Sessions, Austin Scott, and Mr Emmer.
Earlier on Tuesday, Rep Jim Banks told The Independent that Mr Emmer was “a long way away” from the speakership as of Tuesday afternoon. “He’s got a lot of work to do.”
Asked what his concerns were about Mr Emmer, he said: “I could have voted for any of the others who put themselves up today on the floor, but I can’t vote for someone who doesn’t have a conservative track record.”
Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the first nominee following the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, chose not to go to the floor after private conversations revealed he didn’t have the required support – Mr Emmer chose the same route.
With only 221 members in a body of 433--the House has two vacancies--Mr Emmer could only lose four.
Republicans are hoping to appoint a new speaker this week in the face of government funding running out on 17 November and President Joe Biden asking Congress for more than $100bn to help both Ukraine and Israel.
“People are locked in, he’s explaining his position,” Rep Tim Burchett of Tennessee told The Independent before Mr Emmer ended his bid. “I would hope that he can get in the room with just those people that are holding out and that would be the way to go.”
Mr Burchett was one of eight Republicans who joined every Democrat to remove Mr McCarthy, but he voted for Mr Emmer.
“He's the overwhelming vote-getter,” Mr Burchett said of Mr Emmer.
Mr Emmer worked hard in the last few days to overcome the notion that he hasn’t been sufficiently supportive of Mr Trump. However, his efforts appear to have been in vain.
A former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2020 and 2022 cycle, Mr Emmer worked to recruit many of the Republicans who helped Republicans flip the House. But Republicans still chronically underperformed despite winning back the majority in 2022.
Mr Emmer and his staff worked overtime over the weekend making calls, including one to Mr Trump. The call between Mr Trump and Mr Emmer has been described as cordial, even as Mr Trump has been telling associates that he doesn’t want Mr Emmer as speaker, bothered by his vote to certify the 2020 election and believing that he hasn’t been sufficiently defending him in public amidst his broadening legal woes.
The former president is also reported to be annoyed at Mr Emmer for giving the advice ahead of the 2022 midterms that GOP candidates should avoid focusing on Mr Trump during their campaigns.
“Will you endorse Emmer? He hasn’t always been your biggest fan…” a reporter asked Mr Trump in New Hampshire on Monday.
“He’s my biggest fan now because he called me yesterday and told me he’s my biggest fan so… I’m trying to stay out of that as much as possible,” Mr Trump said. He is reported to have spoken to several candidates for speaker over the weekend.
Mr Emmer shared a clip on X of Mr Trump mentioning their phone call at the weekend in an attempt to assuage his caucus that he has a good “working relationship” with Mr Trump.
“If my colleagues elect me Speaker of the House, I look forward to continuing our strong working relationship,” Mr Emmer wrote on X on Monday.
A spokesperson for Mr Emmer told Politico that “Whip Emmer worked hand in hand with President Trump to help House Republicans fire Nancy Pelosi and retake the majority”.
“If he becomes Speaker, Whip Emmer looks forward to continuing that productive relationship,” the spokesperson added.
Previously, pundits supportive of Mr Trump, such as his former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, had been pushing the notion that Mr Emmer is a Washington insider with no real connection to the MAGA movement.
“Tom Emmer, the biggest never-Trumper in the House, a guy who hates Donald Trump,” Mr Bannon said on his War Room podcast on Friday.
“Here’s the probability Tom Emmer is going to be speaker – zero,” he said.
Islamophobic hard-right influencer Laura Loomer posted that Mr Emmer is “one of the worst members of Congress” and “essentially a Democrat”.