Politics

6 things to know about the men (yes, they’re all men) who want to be speaker

Nine House Republicans are on the ballot Tuesday as contenders for House speaker — and while few of them have a whisper of a chance to get the near-unanimous GOP support they’ll need to win, their identities offer an important snapshot of their party at a critical moment.

What do you need to know about them? For one, this group won’t win many points for diversity: They are all male and, with one exception, all white. They aren’t known as legislative giants: Few, if any, have spent their time in the trenches toiling to pass legislation. To the extent they have gained notoriety, it’s through messaging and electoral work, not policy.

Another telling fact: Overwhelmingly, they went along with former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

With House Republicans set to try yet again this week to find a leader, here’s a look at some of the key traits of the nine hopefuls looking to clinch the elusive top job:

Number of candidates with a record of major legislative accomplishments: 0

Speakers once cemented their power bases by turning committee chairmanships into a steady march up the House leadership ladder. But the current field is dominated by candidates with experience in party communications and messaging, not legislating. None have much of a record of sealing big-ticket legislative wins, and none are members of the Appropriations Committee that most closely shapes government funding and writes the bills aimed at keeping the government open.

Two of the hopefuls have spent large amounts of time focused on House elections. To the extent there’s a favorite in the field, it’s Majority Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.), who led the House GOP’s drive back to the majority last fall as chair of its campaign arm. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is a former National Republican Congressional Committee chair himself and also previously chaired the Rules Committee that determines which bills come to the floor.

Reps. Kevin Hern (Okla.), Mike Johnson (La.) and Byron Donalds (Fla.) occupy their own messaging-focused roles, whether formal or unofficial. Hern chairs the Republican Study Committee, the conference’s biggest internal bloc, while Johnson serves in leadership as vice chair of the conference. Donalds, meanwhile, is a fixture on cable TV as a leading voice in the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus.

Among the candidates who bring official GOP roles to the race, only Rep. Gary Palmer (Ala.) can say that his is directly connected to policy. He leads the House Republican Policy Committee, which plays a prominent internal role in the conference by settling on its approach to specific issues.

Number of women: 0

Perhaps the most obvious trait that all nine Republican speaker hopefuls share: They’re men. The all-male field is a reminder that the House GOP still badly lags Democrats in terms of women’s representation; 35 Republican women serve in the chamber this Congress, compared with 94 Democrats, according to the nonprofit Center for Women in Politics.

That total of elected GOP women is, in part, due to the efforts of Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the party’s highest-ranking female leader. Stefanik has built her own base of influence within the party by helping elect more Republican women through her PAC, making her decision to forgo a speaker bid this week somewhat notable.

There is one Black man among the nine: Donalds.

Average number of years served: 8.33

Most of the speaker aspirants have also come to Congress only within the last decade — Scott (2011) and Sessions (1997) are the long-serving veteran exceptions, underscoring that the days of a decades-long ascension for aspiring leaders are over.

Where they’re from

Most of the nine speaker hopefuls hail from the Deep South and other bright-red states on the map where the GOP continues to dominate with the electorate. Johnson, Palmer, Donalds, Hern and Austin Scott (Ga.) all represent conservative strongholds, underscoring how rare it is these days for an ambitious Republican from a swing seat to rise in the leadership ranks.

Even among the candidates from the Midwest and mid-Atlantic — Emmer, Rep. Jack Bergman (Mich.) and Rep. Dan Meuser (Pa.) — there’s no member facing a serious reelection threat. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is perhaps the only anomaly on the list, having lost his reelection bid back in 2018 before returning to represent a different district in 2020.

Notably, no Republican representing a northeastern or West Coast state is running.

Number who voted to certify the 2020 election: 2

When it comes to the highest-profile House votes of the past four years, the speaker field more or less reflects the fractious GOP conference’s position. Which means that they’re largely align on many topics — including whether to join former Trump’s objections to his 2020 loss. Only two of the nine contenders, Emmer and Scott, stood apart from the majority of House Republicans by voting to fully certify President Joe Biden’s victory.

Number who voted with McCarthy on keeping the government open: 5/9

Another big and more recent vote, however, cleanly split the speaker hopefuls: the stopgap government funding bill that led to Kevin McCarthy’s ouster from the speakership. That Sept. 29 vote drew more Democratic votes than Republican ones, underscoring that McCarthy’s hold on his members had permanently frayed.

But five of the nine current speaker candidates joined McCarthy in supporting the funding patch: Emmer, Sessions, Bergman, Scott and Meuser. Three others voted no, indicating their alignment with conservatives who slammed the former speaker for relying on another short-term patch: Johnson, Hern and Palmer.

The ninth candidate on the list, Donalds, missed the vote. He had sought to negotiate an alternative approach with more centrist colleagues that was designed to try to extract more conservative-friendly spending cuts from Biden’s party and later said McCarthy was “in trouble” for calling up the clean spending patch.

While some disagreed with him on the patch, none of the nine voted to oust McCarthy as speaker.

Only two of the nine hopefuls voted to fully certify Donald Trump’s 2020 loss — but that’s not the only telling trait they bring to the race.  

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