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Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer has dropped out of House speaker race

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the temporary leader of the House of Representatives, left, talks with Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., center, and Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, right, confer as lawmakers convene to hold a third ballot to elect a speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
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AP
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the temporary leader of the House of Representatives, left, talks with Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., center, and Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, right, confer as lawmakers convene to hold a third ballot to elect a speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Updated October 24, 2023 at 4:52 PM ET

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who had been chosen Tuesday to be House Republicans' third nominee for speaker in as many weeks, told members hours later that he was dropping out of the race.

Emmer, who currently serves as the House GOP whip, narrowly won the nomination on a secret ballot. But he faced the exact same challenges as the previous two speaker candidates and ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Until a speaker is elected, the House is unable to move legislation on the floor to provide aid to Israel and Ukraine or fund the government past Nov. 17.

Any candidate needs to win a vote on the House floor with the support of a majority of those voting and present to be elected speaker, or roughly 217 if all members are present. It was clear that Emmer could not convince a group of holdouts to back him.

Emmer was selected after House Republicans completely restarted the nominating processes, three weeks after a vote to oust then-Speaker McCarthy threw the chamber into disarray.

Majority Leader Steve Scalise and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan were both named the party's nominee, but pulled their candidacies after they failed to secure enough support to succeed on the floor. Scalise withdrew before trying on the floor and Jordan failed on three ballots by the full House.

Emmer's bind

Emmer's leadership position involves counting votes and convincing members to agree to back the party's position on legislation. He was seen as a potential frontrunner since he announced his plans to run, but faced resistance from conservative hardliners in the conference.

For one, he's not as closely aligned with or embraced by former President Donald Trump as someone like Jordan was. He was one of only two speaker candidates in this round of voting — Rep. Austin Scott was the other — who voted tocertify the 2020 election results.

After the nomination vote, Republicans held a roll call to gauge Emmer's support. Lawmakers told NPR that about 20 members voted against Emmer's bid.

Emmer's' failed bid to win over skeptics

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said he would "enthusiastically" support Emmer after opposing Jordan's nomination. But he said the conference remains a "fractured lot," and was not convinced that Emmer could shore up the necessary support.

"What I just saw in that room illustrates to me that there are some people that are pretty well dug in and are not going to support the the current designee," Womack said.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., was more optimistic after the vote. He said Emmer was taking questions from holdouts and thought he was "moving the room."

"He's standing at the mic. People who have concerns are coming forward. And he's taking them on head to head — not in an adversarial way," Johnson told reporters. "I think he's winning converts."

Trump and the far-right opposition

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., voted against Emmer's nomination and told reporters he would do the same on the floor.

"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."

In a potential blow to Emmer's candidacy, Trump called him a "RINO" on his social media platform, Truth Social, Tuesday afternoon. Trump, who said Monday he was "trying to stay out of" the speaker's race, wrote that Emmer "is totally out-of-touch with Republican Voters," and supporting him would be a "tragic mistake." Trump ally Steve Bannon also attacked Emmer on his podcast Tuesday, calling him "essentially a Democrat."

The next steps remain hazy

Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., introduced a Unity Pledge on Friday, urging his colleagues to "put our differences aside and come together." The pledge states that a member will support whoever becomes the party nominee when their nomination comes to the floor.

That pledge did not seem to work when it came to Emmer.

"What we have now is a complete breakdown of what we've done for 200 years," Flood told NPR's Morning Edition. "The unity pledge simply says, we're going to support the candidate for speaker that wins the majority of the votes in our conference when we get to the floor. It's something we've done for 200 years. It's simple, but unfortunately, it's necessary."

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is an associate producer with NPR's Washington Desk, where she does a little bit of everything. She can be found reporting from Capitol Hill, producing the NPR Politics podcast or running the NPR Politics social media channels. She has also produced coverage of the January 6th Committee hearings, Trump's first impeachment and the 2020 and 2022 campaigns.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is a congressional correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk.