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House Republicans will try again to choose a nominee for speaker

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In a few minutes, we'll hear from veterans of Israel's last ground invasion of Gaza nine years ago. First, though, to Washington, where the U.S. House of Representatives has now been without a speaker for 21 days, leaving Congress virtually paralyzed.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans are now voting behind closed doors to try to find a new nominee. There are now eight candidates in the race, and each of them made their pitch behind closed doors last night to their fellow Republicans. Some, like Don Bacon of Nebraska, are hoping that this time they can come together.

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DON BACON: I feel optimistic we'll have a speaker.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. So he's optimistic. Any front-runner that could bring them all together?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, the closest person to that in this race is probably Tom Emmer. He's a Republican from Minnesota, and he's currently the majority whip. That's the No. 3 elected leadership position, whose job it is to basically know where the votes are in the conference. Prior to that job, he ran the House Republicans' national campaign operations. So he has the most natural position of strength based off of both his resume and certainly his fundraising record.

But, A, establishment Republicans have struggled in this fight. You know, Kevin McCarthy was removed from the job. Majority Leader Steve Scalise dropped out before his nomination could even go to the floor. And Emmer isn't considered an ally of former President Trump the way failed nominee Jim Jordan was considered an ally. So he's a front-runner with a lot of caveats.

Other members I would note in this race are Mike Johnson of Louisiana. He's a lower-tier leadership position, and he has relationships with the party's base and a lot of party activists. Georgia's Austin Scott is making a second run for speaker after initially losing the nomination to Jim Jordan. And Florida's Byron Donalds - he's a junior lawmaker, certainly for the position of speaker. But he's part of the Freedom Caucus. He's popular there. And if he were to win the nomination and win on the floor, he would be the first Black speaker of the House. The rest of the candidates in this race are not particularly well known, but with no very clear front-runner, obviously, upsets are always a possibility in this race.

MARTÍNEZ: So tell us how this internal vote process works.

DAVIS: So each candidate will have a fellow lawmaker give a nominating speech, and as many as two additional lawmakers can speak on their behalf. And then they start voting behind closed doors. Republican Conference rules say the candidate with the least votes will drop off the subsequent ballot. And they just keep doing this until someone wins a majority of the conference. Right now, there are 221 House Republicans if everyone shows up to vote - so half of that plus one. If no one drops out along the way, this could take eight or nine rounds of voting. So it could be a very long day. But it has been three weeks of very long days for House Republicans.

They could also hold other votes today. They've used these secret ballots to get temperature checks on whether lawmakers would vote for a nominee on the floor - even if a nominee should drop out of the race, which was ultimately what the conference voted about Jim Jordan just last week, which has led them here.

MARTÍNEZ: So, as we know, being a nominee is one thing. Winning over a majority of the House in a floor vote is quite another. How confident are Republicans they can wrap this thing up?

DAVIS: It's certainly not a sure bet. You know, if Republicans can pick their nominee today, they could go to the floor pretty quickly and see where the votes stand. They could go as early as today, but more likely tomorrow. There is the school of thought, and it might be overly optimistic, that enough Republicans are so exhausted by this public drama, they're just ready to unite behind anyone and get on with governing.

But the party's divided in pretty critical ways over what exactly their governing agenda should be right now. The immediate work facing the Republican majority is legislation that almost certainly will need Democratic support to keep the government open, to pass spending bills and to pass foreign aid to Israel and Ukraine. And it's really hard to win what is essentially a party purity challenge and yet have the very first test of that person be figuring out how many Democrats the speaker will need to get its work done.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Sue, what if Republicans are not able to elect a speaker again this week? I mean, how much urgency is there for them to figure it out?

DAVIS: Well, Congress doesn't always act until there's a hard deadline. And frankly, the next hard deadline is November 17. That's when the current stopgap spending bill runs out and the government would shut down. Now, House Republicans obviously want to get this done more quickly than that because they realize this is politically very bad for the party, but it's unclear what's possible at this point. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told "Face The Nation" over the weekend he hopes the speaker drama is resolved soon and said it's clearly a problem when Congress can't function.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Susan, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.