These Are Likely Contenders for House Speaker If Republicans Oust Johnson

(Bloomberg Government) -- The last time Republicans unseated their own House speaker, it took three weeks and several implosions before they finally settled on the relatively unknown Mike Johnson (R-La.) as a replacement.

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If he now goes down, who’d pick up the pieces this time?

Most Republicans don’t want to even contemplate the question after the pain they endured in October, but just over six months later they’re inching toward a repeat. This time it’s because Johnson has infuriated hard-right conservatives with a series of compromises and a foreign aid plan they detest. Two Republicans have publicly endorsed a push to topple Johnson, leaving him hanging by a thread — unless Democrats come to his rescue, an uncertain possibility.

There’s no shortage of Republicans who might like the third-ranking position in US government. How many could actually win the votes is a different question. Here’s a list of who might be in the mix if Republicans do throw the gates open again:

Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)

Why he could be speaker: He’s the GOP’s second-in-command, and some Republicans thought that should have made him the natural replacement for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in October. If Republicans want to avoid a drawn-out fight, it might make sense to simply elevate the person who’s next in line, and has relationships across the conference. Since last time Scalise has also come through his recent treatment for blood cancer, and his office has said it’s in “complete remission.”

Why he won’t be: His last bid ended quickly, and the hardliners who sunk him then are likely to remain opposed, especially if they think they can install Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) at the top given a second chance.

Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)

Why he could be speaker: The third-ranking Republican has repaired his relationship with Donald Trump, who tanked Emmer’s run for speaker last fall by calling him a “globalist RINO.” Trump instead complimented the whip at a recent Mar-a-Lago fundraiser. In addition to his bona fides as the two-term head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Emmer could now boast six more months of leadership experience under a rookie speaker.

Why he won’t be: He’ll still have to answer for past votes that hard-core conservatives don’t like — such as his support for the 2022 law codifying same-sex marriage rights and his vote to certify the 2020 presidential election. Emmer could also be pressed about his effectiveness. He helped flip the House as head of the NRCC, but the 2022 midterms were a disappointment, leaving the GOP with its slim, unwieldy majority. Now in charge of counting votes, he could also be questioned over the GOP’s struggle to pass their priorities this Congress.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Why he could be speaker: The Judiciary Chairman is a favorite among the far right. He’s opposed bills on Ukraine aid and other conservative taboos, while also maintaining close ties with GOP leadership. He might be the House’s most nationally known Republican and is close to Trump.

Why he won’t be: Moderates torpedoed Jordan’s October bid amid complaints about bullying tactics. Remember: Jordan is popular among the party’s most vocal conservatives, but they’re a small portion of the overall conference, and more moderate members might not want to be led by a hard-right flamethrower.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Why she could be speaker: She’s the third-ranking House Republican, and the only senior leader who stayed out of the last fight — so she hasn’t smeared her resume with an embarrassing defeat. In the interim she’s drawn significant attention with her ongoing crusade against antisemitism on elite college campuses. Most people think Stefanik wants to be Trump’s vice president, but a stint as speaker could be a stepping stone.

Why she won’t be: The fact that Stefanik stayed out of the last contest suggests she knows the speaker’s post — with such a slim majority — is the worst job in Washington. It might be better to pick her targets rather than step into a no-win situation that would inevitably force her into decisions that would anger factions of her party.

The Wild Cards

Why they could be speaker: As Johnson demonstrated by skyrocketing from obscurity to leader of the House, sometimes the only person who can secure the job is the one who isn’t prominent enough to have enemies. That’s why a wild card candidate could flourish in this fractured, chaotic chamber.

Here are a few archetypal candidates likely to emerge from the rubble if there’s a Johnson ouster:

The Newcomer: Think of up-and-comers like Freedom Caucus member Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who ran for the job last time and would be the House’s first Black speaker. Donalds, or others like him, might be new or young enough to convince lawmakers they’d bring a fresh perspective to the conference. And they probably haven’t ticked off any major factions yet.

The Institutionalist: Expect old bulls like Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) to be floated as possible caretaker speakers who can manage the House through the election and claim years (or even decades) of experience. Bonus points for retiring lawmakers whose colleagues know they won’t try to keep the gavel in 2025.

The Back-Bench Leaders: Someone like Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who ran for speaker in October, or Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), would offer leadership experience and a fresh face. That’s basically what allowed Johnson to get the gavel.

Why they won’t be: The conference tried a wild card with Johnson, and his inexperience has shown. If he’s ousted, they might not want to do the same thing. But as October’s race showed, the entire situation is unpredictable, so don’t count anyone out. After all, the speaker doesn’t even need to be a member of the House.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tamari in Washington, D.C. at; Maeve Sheehey in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at; George Cahlink at

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