Who Are the 7 Candidates Running for Speaker of the House?
Updated: 10/24/23 8:54 PM EDT
After failing to secure the necessary votes for speaker, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) has withdrawn his name from the race.
After holding a House conference with the then-nine candidates for speaker on Monday night, the caucus proceeded to a closed-door vote early Tuesday morning to select a nominee.
The Speaker of the House position has been vacant since eight Republicans voted to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), supporting a motion to vacate introduced by conservative Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on October 3. House Republicans hope to emerge united behind a candidate who can represent the broad coalition spanned by their thin majority. Under the rules of the 118th Congress, if no candidate wins a majority of 111 votes in the caucus, the candidate who won the least number of votes is eliminated until one does. A successful candidate must have 217 votes to become Speaker of the House.
All seven remaining candidates have earned “pretty high” rankings on the FRC Action scorecard, which revealed how members voted “with particular focus of particular interest of concern to faith, family, and freedom,” Travis Weber, vice president for Policy and Government Affairs at Family Research Council, told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Monday night.
The speaker’s candidate roster contains “a lot of friends” for the pro-life, pro-family movement, noted FRC President Tony Perkins.
The only “common thread” pulling down Republicans’ scores is support for the soft “legalization of marijuana,” said Perkins. Specifically, four contenders voted for the SAFE Banking Act, which permitted the “facilitation of marijuana-related transactions in the banking system and against DOJ enforcement,” noted Weber. The move, which would significantly boost big banks’ reserves, came even as House progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pressured elite financial institutions to debank activities of the fossil fuel industry, and a U.S. bank canceled the account of a Christian charity that relieves poverty in Uganda. “I do see a common thread through some of them is this legalization of marijuana,” noted Perkins. “This is where I think there’s this infiltration of libertarianism within the party,” said Perkins. Only two of the remaining seven contenders voted against the SAFE Banking Act.
The seven Republican candidates running for Speaker of the House are, in alphabetical order:
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 97.28%
Jack Bergman, 76, leaned into his 40-year military service in the armed forces before his election to Congress in 2016. Bergman became the highest-ranking combat veteran ever elected to the House, having earned the rank of lieutenant general in the U.S. Marine Corps. “China, Iran, and Russia are relishing in the current dysfunction of Washington. … We need a tested leader who will put America first,” wrote Bergman. “When I joined the Marine Corps, I answered the call for service to our [n]ation and I’m ready to answer the call again.”
Bergman has won the support of four members of his Michigan delegation: Reps. John James, Tim Walberg, Lisa McClain, and John Moolenaar. Bergman voted for a stand-alone bill to give $300 million in U.S. taxpayer funds to Ukraine and to certify the 2020 election results without further review for fraud.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 98.7%
Byron Donalds has received tremendous support during his two terms in Congress. Donalds has become a frequent media spokesman for Republican causes, showing a marked willingness to appear on hostile networks, including a memorable showdown with MSNBC’s Joy Reid. Donalds has already earned the votes of 20 of his colleagues on previous ballots. He is said to have President Donald Trump’s tacit approval as a conservative alternative to Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.; see below).
“We need to secure our border, fund our government responsibly, advance our conservative agenda, [and] expand our Republican majority,” said Donalds. He vowed to lead his Republican colleagues in “the common pursuit of a more perfect union.”
Donalds, who worked in the banking and insurance industries before his election in 2020, voted for the SAFE Banking Act and against $300 million in U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine. He voted for the Schools Not Shelters Act, which would cut off federal funding to schools that house illegal immigrants, except during a natural disaster.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 93%
Tom Emmer entered the speaker’s race as its highest-ranking candidate, serving as House Majority Whip, the third-ranking position in the House. He received one vote on previous ballots from Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).
Emmer represents the most left-leaning of the conservative candidates vying for the speaker’s gavel. Weber noted that Emmer has cast numerous “concerning votes on questions of sexuality and family.”
Tom Emmer became one of just 39 House Republicans to vote twice for the so-called “Respect for Marriage” Act, which imposed a top-down national mandate for all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriage. The bill lacked any meaningful religious liberty protections. The vote gave President Joe Biden, who hosted a festive signing ceremony at the White House last December, one of his signature policy victories.
Emmer has cast similar votes that give pro-family advocates heartburn stretches over at least three administrations. In 2019, Emmer opposed House conservatives who voted to cut off military funding that would have allowed President Trump to further unit cohesion by barring people who openly identify as transgender.
In 2016, Emmer voted for the Maloney Amendment, a measure introduced by then-Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), which “would have provided for special” privileges “for sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Weber. The amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would have forced defense contractors to allow men who identify as female to access female restrooms, changing rooms, and worksite showers, or lose federal funding. Support for Maloney’s “unfair and discriminatory” Obama-era amendment “is deeply troubling,” said Perkins at the time.
Tom Emmer’s support for left-wing LGBT pressure groups make him “an outlier” in the speaker’s race, “because I don’t think any of the others have votes that are in line with LGBTQ and transgender” agenda, said Perkins.
Emmer also voted for $300 million in U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine and the SAFE Banking Act.
Emmer, who was elected in 2014, has distinguished himself as a major fundraiser with the ability to court the party’s business-tied megadonors. The $4.8 million he raised as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) only amounted to half of the $9.8 million Emmer pulled into the GOP’s coffers in the 2022 midterm elections. Emmer has collected $7.6 million for the party this cycle.
Emmer has a reputation for avidly pursuing higher posts. He previously announced he would seek the House Majority Leader position when Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) ran for speaker; after Scalise fell short and retained his post, Emmer threw his hat in the ring for the top office. Emmer has the endorsement of former Speaker McCarthy, who told his colleagues late last week Emmer was “in the room” for all of his decisions and “set himself head-and-shoulders above all those others” in the race.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 96%
Kevin Hern serves as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative faction in Congress. Styling himself as “a different type of leader who has a proven track record of success,” Hern’s candidacy announcement emphasized the broken House budget process, the open border, record number of overdoses and deaths of despair, and the 17% approval rating Congress enjoys with the American people. “I understand that we cannot fix each of these overnight, but we will never fix any of them if we stick with business as usual,” he wrote.
Hern, sometimes dubbed “McCongressman” for owning 18 McDonald’s restaurants, passed out cheeseburgers to his colleagues when he announced his candidacy. Hern was born into a military family and worked for Rockwell International before his foray into the world’s largest fast-food franchise. He was elected to Congress in 2018 and attends the evangelical BattleCreek Church.
Hern voted for the SAFE Banking Act but against $300 million in new stand-alone funding for Ukraine. He also voted against allowing an additional 8,000 Afghan refugees to settle in the United States.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 99.4%
Before his election to Congress in 2016, Johnson served as a national spokesman for the Alliance Defending Freedom and a trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). As a Louisiana legislator, he proposed a Marriage and Conscience Act, which would not allow politicians to withhold or cancel the state occupational licenses of workers with a religious objection to same-sex marriage.
“I have never before aspired to the office,” Johnson wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing his candidacy. “However, after much prayer and deliberation, I am stepping forward now.”
The only vote barring Johnson from a perfect 100% FRC Action score came when he supported an NDAA amendment requiring women to register with Selective Service. Analyses from military authorities have repeatedly found that the draft harms military readiness by flooding the service with conscripts who do not wish to serve. Perkins pointed out that Johnson serves “on the House Armed Services Committee where there’s an expectation unless there’s really something bad, that members support it.”
Johnson voted against both the SAFE Banking Act and providing $300 million of additional taxpayer funds to Ukraine.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 95%
Austin Scott has held himself out as a consensus candidate and source of unity in the speaker’s race. “If we are going to be the majority we need to act like the majority, and that means we have to do the right things the right way,” said Scott, who has served seven terms in the House. He amassed 81 votes on prior ballots for the position.
Scott said his first move after deciding to run for the office was to call “my wife to tell her to call all our friends and be in prayer because we haven’t done any preparation or any whipping” for his candidacy.
Scott voted to certify the 2020 election results without further review for fraud and to compel U.S. taxpayers to send an additional $300 million in foreign aid to Ukraine.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)
Lifetime FRC Action score: 97%
In announcing his candidacy for Speaker of the House, Pete Sessions boasted of his success as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the GOP’s House campaign arm in the 2010 midterms. “[W]e won 63 seats in the House & had our largest victory since the Republican Revolution of 1994,” he said. He also boasted of helping “usher a conservative agenda through Congress” as chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Sessions voted against the SAFE Banking Act and in favor of $300 million in U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine.
Two candidates have withdrawn from the race since announcing their candidacy over the weekend. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), the fifth-ranking office in the House as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, had earned a FRC Action 100% score before bowing out of the race early Tuesday morning. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) boasted a lifetime FRC Action score of 95.6%. “I believe the House will elect a new Speaker, and I know we will be in good hands with one of our colleagues running,” wrote Meuser on X. “I’ve spoken to President Trump, and he supports my decision.”
Rep. Mike Flood (R-Neb.) has proposed a unity pledge, requiring all members of the Republican caucus to support the nominee on the floor vote. The 21-day interregnum constitutes the third-longest period the House has gone without a speaker — the longest period since February 1860.
“We need to be praying for this situation,” Perkins asked his listeners. “It is time to get a speaker.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.