There’s no logical successor to toppled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
There’s not even a firm timetable for picking a successor, though Republicans may try next week.. There’s uncertainty about who would temporarily run the House.
Lots of names and ideas were mentioned Tuesday by Republican lawmakers. McCarthy may have offered some clues in January as to who could follow him. But most Republicans were reluctant to speculate, and others said they just didn’t know what or how things would unfold.
They knew this much: Tuesday was another chapter in the recent history of Republican speakers unable to survive (though none was voted out like McCarthy). If anything, that history suggests surprises are likely.
In 1998, centrist Republicans had to recruit Dennis Hastert, then a lower-ranking member of the House leadership, to take the job after Newt Gingrich was pressured to resign and other top-ranking Republicans couldn’t get the support of the caucus.
In 2015, GOP leaders had to cajole Paul Ryan, then a committee chairman, to succeed the frustrated John Boehner after he resigned.
Now comes the task of replacing McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican who needed 15 ballots to win the job in January, only to endure nothing but turmoil for nine months until he was toppled Tuesday.
Under House rules, he submitted a list to the clerk of the House in January of members who could replace him should he be unable to serve.
While those names are unknown, observers thought there were clues on January 7 when he listed members who could be Speaker Pro Tempore to sign legislation in his absence.
Among those listed were Reps. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Adrian Smith of Nebraska, Rob Wittman of Virginia, Andy Harris of Maryland, Richard Hudson of North Carolina, John Joyce of Pennsylvania and Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania.
The Next in Line
McCarthy’s logical successor would be Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He’s adored by conservatives and respected by moderates. But he’s also battling multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
Next in line would be Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who has been mentioned as a strong candidate by some of the far right lawmakers. Emmer, who is close to McCarthy, won’t comment on the speculation.
One negative, though: He chaired the party’s congressional campaign committee last year, when it fell far short of expectations.
So if not Emmer, what Republican barely known outside of Washington is in line to become Congress’ most powerful player?
Here are some ideas:
The Up and Comers
Leading this pack would be Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. She came to Washington as a center-right congresswoman from a blue state, but then became a devoted ally of former President Donald Trump. She’s now the fourth-ranking House Republican as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
Stefanik would check several important political boxes. She’d be the first Republican woman to become speaker. She’s only 39 and projects energy. She’s a mother of a two-year-old who can talk with authority about family issues.
Also on this list is Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, a physician and Army veteran who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Republicans have praised his work getting tough on border security and his tough-but-fair demeanor.
The Wise Men and Women
There are some House GOP sages who have been around for years, veterans who leaders rely on for wisdom.
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma is probably the standout. He chairs the Rules Committee, so he’s familiar with the complexities of passing legislation. He’s long been active on budget issues, arguing consistently for conservative causes but in a calm, friendly way that wins him a lot of supporters.
Also mentioned is Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. He chairs the House Financial Services Committee and has been a close confidante of McCarthy. But he’s opted for the committee post in the past rather than step into leadership.
Chances are none of the far right lawmakers who were instrumental in ousting McCarthy have much of a shot at speaker, and when asked they tend to mention Emmer.
If Emmer is not interested, there’s Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., heads the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, whose members were instrumental in ousting McCarthy.
While Perry largely stayed out of that fight, more centrist Republicans are unlikely to back a Freedom Caucus official.
There was chatter in the halls Tuesday that he could try again. After all, he survived 15 ballots in January, eventually wearing down his opposition.
“If someone replaces him they will not be a better uniter of the Republican party. They will not be a better fundraiser,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista. “There will not be a better person to bring about diversity.”
McCarthy, though, said late Tuesday he wouldn’t run again.