Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision not to seek his old job is certain to set off intense jockeying among ambitious House Republicans, undeterred by the Californian’s short tenure as leader of the congressional Republicans.
Though the potential candidates for the job are numerous, the divides between them ― and the man who previously held the job ― are so small as to be microscopic. All of them are white, and only one is a woman. None of them breaks from conservative policy orthodoxy in any substantial way, and none is known for raising concerns about former President Donald Trump, even if some are more enthusiastic about him than others. All voted against removing McCarthy from the speakership.
Each would face the same challenges as McCarthy and likely be forced to use similar approaches. With both the party’s base voters and the bulk of the GOP’s razor-thin majority demanding conservative measures certain to alienate Democrats and unable to become law, they’ll run into the same traps that snared McCarthy: governing reality on one side, implacable yet empowered bomb-throwers on the other.
So who could throw their name in the ring to become the most powerful and instantly embattled person in Washington? Here are six major contenders.
(Yes, we know someone does not technically have to be a member of the House to be speaker. And, yes, a GOP member of the House has floated Trump’s name, but we don’t need to tell you who Donald Trump is, so we’re going to focus on these people instead.)
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.)
Scalise, the House majority leader, is the most obvious name on the list. He served as McCarthy’s number two, and within hours of McCarthy being forced out, he was reportedly making calls to Republicans to see if they’d support him becoming speaker. He’s been in GOP leadership for 10 years, slowly climbing the ladder under former speakers John Boehner (Ohio), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and then McCarthy. He’s clearly been waiting for his turn at the top.
In June 2017, Scalise, then the GOP whip, survived a mass shooting targeting House Republican members of Congress who were practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game.
Notably, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the far-right conservative who led the effort to throw out McCarthy, has been telling reporters he would support Scalise as the next speaker.
One caveat is that Scalise has been undergoing treatment for blood cancer. But asked about his health Tuesday, Scalise told reporters, “I feel great.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Jordan, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is signaling he may throw his hat into the ring. He wouldn’t rule out a run for speaker during a brief CNN interview on Tuesday, even though he’s ruled out the idea in the past. He told CNN it was up to the GOP conference to decide who they want.
Jordan is perhaps the staunchest ally of Trump on the list, and he regularly uses his post atop the Judiciary Committee to try to hurt President Joe Biden politically. He’s a central figure in the House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into Biden, and he relentlessly defended Trump during both of the former president’s impeachments.
Jordan is also known for his alleged role in covering up sexual abuse while working at a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, which could become an even greater political issue if he’s moved up in the House GOP hierarchy.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)
Stefanik, who represents a district in upstate New York, has become a willing symbol of the GOP’s transformation under Trump. Once a relative moderate who was supposed to represent a new direction for the GOP, she has since embraced Trump wholeheartedly and become known for hardline partisanship and spreading the far-right, white nationalist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory.
As chair of the House Republican Conference ― a position she took from “never Trump” Republican Liz Cheney ― Stefanik has a natural platform to launch a bid. However, she is also thought to be positioning herself as a possible running mate to Trump, and pursuing both positions would be politically tricky.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)
Emmer, the House majority whip, represents a district that includes the northern and western exurbs of the Twin Cities but is dominated by rural, agricultural central Minnesota.
First elected in 2014, his rise in the conference got a boost after he led House Republicans’ campaign arm to a surprisingly strong performance in 2020, picking up 13 seats even as Trump lost reelection. However, he continued to chair the group in 2022, when the much-hyped red wave fell well short of expectations.
And if you are looking for a differentiator for the competitors, neither Emmer nor Rep. Patrick McHenry voted to reject the 2020 presidential election results, while the other four names on this list backed Trump’s lies about the election being stolen from him.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.)
As of Tuesday, McHenry is best known for instantly creating a meme by fiercely slamming the gavel down as McCarthy’s defeat became official.
But the bowtie-wearing McHenry, who is now the speaker pro tempore of the House following McCarthy’s defeat, was previously best known as one of the banking lobby’s best friends in Washington. He’s been the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee since 2019.
McHenry, however, has evolved over his career in Congress, which began with his election to a heavily Republican seat in North Carolina in 2004. Though always aligned with the GOP establishment ― he worked on President George W. Bush’s first campaign in 2000 ― he started out as a more bombastic figure. Though still staunchly conservative, he has mellowed and been more willing to work with Democrats over time.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.)
Hern, the chair of the Republican Study Committee, is reportedly gauging support among colleagues for a potential speaker bid.
As the leader of the largest House GOP group, he has sway in his conference. He’s also been a staunch defender of Trump, saying the 91 felony counts he’s facing are part of a “witch hunt.”