Already in uncharted territory, House Republicans are navigating even more surprise waves as they race to select a replacement for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) next week.
The normally internal, relationship-based process is getting a swath of outside attention — a reality that is not sitting well with many in the House GOP.
Plans for a televised Fox News forum with the candidates were quickly scrapped after backlash.
And former President Trump has weighed in with a preferred pick, after showing openness to being a Speaker candidate himself and sources saying he considered showing up at the Capitol for the Republican nominating contest.
It has the potential to be the most competitive race for a party’s top spot that the House seen in decades — a dynamic that members must grapple with on a severely condensed timeline, with a looming shutdown deadline exerting pressure to quickly elect a Speaker that can restore normal business of the House.
One of the few other times the House faced a mid-session Speaker change was in 2015, when around a month passed between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing his resignation and the House GOP’s internal nominating contest. Now, members have just more than a week between McCarthy’s ouster and their internal nominating contest set for Wednesday.
“What we’re seeing is a very accelerated process,” said Matthew Green, professor of politics at Catholic University and coauthor of “Choosing the Leader: Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“It’s like, super speed,” he continued.
Two powerhouses in the GOP conference — House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — are jockeying for the top spot in the chamber, reaching out to different coalitions within the party to secure support for the gavel. Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is also mulling a run for Speaker.
All three contenders bring a different flair to the table.
Scalise is a leadership veteran, having served in the highest echelons of the House since 2014; Jordan is the founding chairman of the influential conservative House Freedom Caucus and holds the gavel for the powerful House Judiciary Committee; and Hern, a newcomer relative to the other two, leads the largest GOP group in the chamber.
“I will say I’m impressed with the number of endorsements these candidates have gotten so quickly,” Green said of Scalise and Jordan. “I call them both serious competitors. The problem, though, is that if you have leadership ambitions, you really kind of have to start like years in advance.”
The competitiveness of — and widespread interest in — the race was on full display Thursday morning, when news broke that Fox News would hold a televised forum with the three contenders. Such an event would be highly unusual, given that leadership elections are normally hashed out hidden from the public eye.
But those plans quickly fell apart as some lawmakers spoke out against the idea. Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.) called the event “unproductive.”
A Jordan spokesman said that he would prefer the candidates speak to the GOP conference before the televised event, CNN first reported.
Hern then wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he “will not be participating in the televised debate.” Scalise followed suit, and plans for the forum were scrapped within hours of them having been unveiled.
But the idea of the unconventional event — and its subsequent domino-effect fall — epitomizes the atypical nature of this month’s Speaker’s race, which has gained outsized attention on the national stage after McCarthy’s stunning, and unprecedented, fall from the top spot.
The peculiar essence of the race does not end there.
Trump’s shadow has added to the chaos surrounding the Speaker saga, with the former president being endorsed for the job, floating a potential visit to the Capitol, offering himself up to be the interim GOP leader, and, eventually, throwing his support behind Jordan — all within a matter of days.
It is very unusual for a former president to get involved in a closely contested Speaker contest.
“Usually they don’t want to get involved, because heaven forbid they pick a losing candidate — now they’ve just burned a bridge with the winner,” Green said. But, he added: “You know, Donald Trump does what he does.”
Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) announced Tuesday night — shortly after McCarthy’s ouster — that he would nominate Trump to be the next Speaker, with Reps. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also backing the former president.
House rules do not require the Speaker to be a member of the chamber, but the possibility of a Trump Speakership was largely panned as unrealistic and far-fetched — especially as the former president, who is facing four indictments and a civil lawsuit in New York, barrels ahead with a comeback bid for the White House.
Despite those ongoing engagements, news broke Thursday afternoon that Trump was considering making a trip to the Capitol on Tuesday, when the GOP conference is scheduled to huddle for a candidate forum amid the Speaker race. Later in the day, Trump offered himself up for the top House job, albeit on a short-term basis.
“They have asked me if I would take it for a short period of time for the party, until they come to a conclusion — I’m not doing it because I want to — I will do it if necessary, should they not be able to make their decision,” Trump told Fox News Digital.
But just hours later, Trump changed course, throwing his support behind Jordan for Speaker and urging his allies on Capitol Hill to do the same. The announcement came shortly after Nehls beat him to the announcement, writing on X that he had talked to Trump, and that the former president was endorsing Jordan.
“He will be a GREAT Speaker of the House, & has my Complete & Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Conservative outside groups, including Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, have also released public statements about what they are looking for in a Speaker.
“Even in high-profile races like this, outsiders don’t usually have as much influence as they’d like to think they do,” Green said. “Lawmakers are thinking about their own careers, and the person who can help them the most is usually the leader who’s being elected.”
“Now, having said that — for very, very close races, sometimes it can make a difference,” Green said.