House Speaker Kevin McCarthy holds the speaker’s gavel in January after winning election following a historic fight.
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Kevin McCarthy has now been removed from the House speakership.
His historic ouster now leaves a power vacuum that may not be immediately filled.
Some of his biggest potential foes have thus far united around him.
For the first time in American history, House lawmakers have ejected the Speaker of the House from power.
Now that Rep. Matt Gaetz’s gambit was successful, House lawmakers must find a new leader of the chamber who is also second-in-line for the presidency. The nation could very well be in a multi-day drama like the five days in January that ultimately ended with Kevin McCarthy as speaker. And yes, this entire saga could also end with McCarthy retaking the gavel.
In a show of loyalty, every member of House leadership on this list, including Reps. Tom Emmer, Steve Scalise, and Elise Stefanik, pleaded with their colleagues to keep McCarthy in his post.
Here’s who reportedly could step up to lead the House:
Tom Emmer Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican
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Emmer is the No. 3 House Republican and formerly led the House GOP’s campaign arm. He was at the center of talks that broke the days-long deadlock that led to McCarthy finally winning the speakership in January. As Majority Whip, it is his main job to help count the votes and find ways to work within the Republican Party’s slim five-seat majority (it’s even smaller at the moment due to a vacancy).
According to Politico, some far-right members have pitched Emmer as a McCarthy alternative. Rep. Andy Biggs, a former leader of the House Freedom Caucus, denied to the publication that he had privately floated Emmer’s name. The Washington Post first reported some conservatives were talking about Emmer.
US House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise.
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Scalise is the No. 2 House Republican. He has served in House GOP leadership since 2014. A Louisiana Republican, Scalise returned to the House in 2017 after surviving gunshot wounds he sustained during a shooting at a Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. He is more conservative than McCarthy, though The Post reported that some in the House Freedom Caucus view him as part of “the establishment” given his long tenure in leading the party.
Politico reported that some conservatives were also concerned about Scalise’s health. In August, Scalise said he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida.
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Donalds’ profile has skyrocketed for someone who is just a two-term congressman. The Florida Republican received a maximum of 20 votes in January during the 15 rounds of voting. His decision to flip to explicitly supporting McCarthy was a major moment for the eventual speaker. Publicly, he opposed Gaetz’s ouster effort before the critical vote.
Donalds has said he is thinking of running for Florida governor in 2026 when Gov. Ron DeSantis would be term-limited out, provided DeSantis doesn’t pull off a massive primary comeback and win the presidency. Donalds, who is not in House leadership, did not speak on the floor before the historic vote. Some lawmakers who are not House leadership did speak before the vote.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
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Try as he might, Jordan can’t seem to shake Washington’s fascination with his potential speakership. Jordan appears to have everything he ever wanted as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. The Ohio Republican is also a main figure in what McCarthy has unilaterally declared is an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Reporters have also detailed how McCarthy has spent years wooing Jordan after Jordan helped sink his disastrous 2015 speakership bid. Jordan also spoke before the vote.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican
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Rep. Elise Stefanik rose to national fame during President Donald Trump’s first impeachment. She was catapulted into House leadership after Republicans booted then-Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as the N0. 3 House Republican over her repeated criticism of former President Donald Trump. Once a more liberal Republican, Stefanik has become one of the biggest Trump supporters in the entire House Republican conference.
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Yep, he’s still here. There’s nothing preventing McCarthy from running for the speakership, again. He has said multiple times in recent days that parties should vote for the candidate who wins the most votes in their respective conferences. His plea for such norms went unanswered. Now, it remains to be seen if he can grind out another potentially days-long drama and if he can keep many of the above potential challengers from running themselves.
Not likely to happen
Donald Trump: Yes, you don’t have to be a member of Congress to be Speaker of the House. And yes, Gaetz did vote for the former president at times during the January debacle. Still, it is very unlikely Trump wants this job. He already holds a gigantic lead to retake the GOP presidential nomination. There’s simply no reason to think he would want this job.
A quasi-coalition government: There’s a joke in Washington that people come to the Capitol hoping to find out it’s like Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing” only to discover it’s a mixture of Netflix’s “House of Cards” and HBO’s “VEEP.” The truth always being, that only in Sorkin’s fictional Washington do you get things like a liberal president nominating a conservative Supreme Court justice.
There’s no reason to expect that both parties agree to some quasi-power-sharing arrangement that would be unprecedented in American history. We live in an age of hyper-partisanship. Republicans rightly feel they are entitled to the speakership after the 2022 midterm elections.
It seems unlikely they would forfeit those claims.