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10 hours, 2 nominees: Chaos on Capitol Hill and still no House speaker

House Republicans started out the day Tuesday nominating one of their own as House speaker, their third nominee in as many weeks since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted from the job earlier this month.

By the close of business, that nominee was done.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) met the same fate as Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) while trying to win the speaker’s gavel. While all three got a majority of Republicans’ votes to become their nominee, none could coax enough to secure the 217-vote threshold needed on the House floor.

And so Republicans fell back to square one and again find themselves scrambling to choose a leader. Without one, the House of Representatives is stalled as situations at home and abroad increasingly demand the attention of Congress. On Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the stalemate and resultant paralysis in Congress are hurting President Biden’s ability to manage global affairs, including the Israel-Gaza war and the war in Ukraine.

Tuesday began with eight Republicans running to be the party’s nominee for House speaker. But even as Republicans elevated their majority whip, the cracks started to show. In early rounds of voting, five Republicans chose members who were not candidates for the job, which one lawmaker described as a “harbinger of problems ahead.”

“If six people don’t vote for whoever our designee is, we don’t have a speaker, again,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) told reporters. “So that’s problematic.”

Overnight, former president Donald Trump had taken to his social media platform to share two posts originally written by far-right activist Laura Loomer criticizing Emmer.

After multiple rounds of voting, Emmer won the nomination. Emmer, 62, had the support of McCarthy, with whom he had served on the House leadership team. Speaking to “Meet the Press” on Sunday, McCarthy described him as “head and shoulders above all those others who want to run.”

“We need to get him elected this week and move on,” McCarthy said.

For about four hours after winning his party’s nomination, Emmer tried to appeal to enough Republicans to become House speaker.

Emmer soon met behind closed doors to try to woo holdouts in what Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called a “spirited discussion.” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) hailed Emmer’s efforts as a political persuasion tour de force.

“Tom Emmer is putting on a master class in there about how to stand in the fire and answer questions in front of a room of 200, frankly, very opinionated members,” Johnson said.

House Republicans adjourned a meeting of the full conference to let Emmer zero in on roughly two dozen holdouts. As he left the room, Huizenga described the situation in less charitable terms than Johnson.

“It’s a dumpster fire, frankly,” he told reporters.

But Emmer did have the support of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the far-right firebrand who led the successful charge to oust McCarthy. Standing up during a closed-door meeting, Gaetz told fellow Republican members that, even though he doesn’t like Emmer, he was going to vote for him, The Post reported. He asked Emmer to speak about his relationship with Trump. Emmer said that he’d spoken with the former president by phone over the weekend and that he would support him in his campaign to return to the White House next year.

Minutes after Gaetz voiced support for Emmer, Trump posted to his social media platform to denounce his bid for the speakership. The former president wrote that “[v]oting for a Globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!”

“He never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement, or the breadth and scope of MAGA — MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN,” Trump said.

After Trump’s post, multiple Republican lawmakers and senior aides reported that Emmer wouldn’t be able to get to 217 votes. They said that Trump’s criticism had emboldened the holdouts even as Emmer tried to win them over.

Those holdouts said that Emmer wasn’t conservative enough. Some disapproved of his vote last year to support same-sex marriage. Others don’t like that he voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results, affirming Biden’s win. Some didn’t like that he served on the House leadership team alongside McCarthy.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Emmer’s voting record turned her off and led her to openly oppose him during the closed-door roll-call vote. She said that Emmer was not sufficiently conservative to an evolving Republican Party tacking to the right.

“Here’s what’s going on: The GOP conference is changing,” she said.

Just before 4:30 p.m. Emmer stormed out of the meeting and bolted for his security detail’s car. A few minutes later, word trickled out that he had withdrawn from the process.

After Emmer’s bid failed, Republicans scrambled to choose another nominee. More than a dozen members ran to try to be the conference’s fourth nominee for speaker.

A little after 8 p.m., Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) stuck his head out of the Ways and Means conference room to tell The Post that he believed Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) was going to be the next House speaker.

“I just feel it in my bones,” Arrington said.

About two hours later, Johnson indeed emerged as the new nominee — the fourth of the month and the second of the day. But a nominee does not a speaker make.

Just ask Scalise, Jordan or Emmer.

Marianna Sotomayor, Amy B Wang, Mariana Alfaro, Jacqueline Alemany, Maegan Vazquez, Paul Kane, Azi Paybarah, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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