The top candidates for speaker of the House

Nine Republican men—of course they are all men—have filed to run for speaker of the House, filling the seat Rep. Kevin McCarthy was booted out of 20 days ago. The chaos will continue for at least part of this week as the deeply divided Republican conference tries to work through its issues. There are many, which have been heightened by the scorched-earth campaign Rep. Jim Jordan and his Freedom Caucus pals waged against holdouts, trying to bully them into submission with the predictable result: death threats against the opposition and their families that Jordan and team blew off.

It’s hard to overstate the anger and resentment brewing in the Republican conference at this point. It’s likely to spill into Monday evening’s conference meeting, which is supposed to be a candidate forum in which all nine candidates will make their pitch. This is who’s running: House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, House Republican Vice Conference Chairman Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer of Alabama, Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Austin Scott of Georgia, Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, and Pete Sessions of Texas.


Out of that group, Emmer, Johnson, Hern, and Donalds are the most likely contenders; the first three because they’ve had the most experience in policy and working with their colleagues. Donalds, even though he’s been in Congress for less than three years, is the MAGA/Freedom Caucus/Trump choice—the Jordan successor.

Of that group, Emmer is the only one who did not vote to overturn elections results on Jan. 6, 2021. He’s also supported aid to Ukraine and voted for last month’s continuing resolution (CR), which kept the government open. Emmer’s sanity is going to make him—and his backers—a target of the extremists. Some have told Axios reporter Andrew Solender that they don’t intend to go public with their support because they don’t want to be targeted again.

Johnson voted against Ukraine aid and voted against last month’s CR. He’s a Trump ally and, in fact, served on Trump’s defense team in both of his impeachment trials in the Senate. He would likely be acceptable to the large bunch of extremists but will have a problem being from Louisiana. That’s where Majority Leader Steve Scalise is from, and traditionally, members don’t like to see leadership centered in one state.

Hern has been in Congress since 2018 and became chair of the Republican Study Committee this year. He’s the “policy” guy, as much as such a thing exists in the GOP these days. He also voted against the CR and a functioning government and against aid to Ukraine. He flirted with running for speaker in the last round but deferred to Scalise and Jordan.

Donalds is a dyed-in-the-wool MAGA Freedom Caucus Florida Man, opposed to both the CR and aid to Ukraine. He’s an election denier who has repeatedly insisted that President Joe Biden is not a legitimate president. When the Freedom Caucus and Rep. Matt Gaetz wanted to fight McCarthy in the first speaker election, back in January, Donalds was one of the guys they put forward. He’ll likely be the first choice of most of the extremists.


Of the second tier of candidates, Sessions is the most experienced, formerly serving as the House Rules Committee chair. He’s a member of both the conservative Republican Study Committee and what serves as moderate in this group, the Republican Main Street Caucus. He could be a dark-horse candidate here.

Among this group, Scott is the only one who did not vote to reject the election results. He’s the guy who decided to mount a challenge to Jordan’s bid for speaker at the last minute. Getting 81 anti-Jordan votes in that surprise bid seemed to make him think he could actually do this. He and the remainder in the second tier are likely to be weeded out pretty quickly.

The plan for Monday evening is for every candidate to give a two-minute speech, followed by 90 minutes of Q&A for the whole group, with one-minute closing remarks from each candidate. The voting in the conference begins Tuesday.

Here’s a cheat sheet for some of the key votes of all the candidates.

Ladies and gentlemen, your cheat sheet to the 9 Republican candidates for Speaker of the House:

— Adam Carlson (@admcrlsn) October 22, 2023

Campaign Action


House speaker battle heats up, Jordan's allies show indifference to threats against opponents

Jordan is trying to bully his way to becoming speaker

Three Biden-district Republicans changed course, voted against Jordan. Too late