House GOP speaker field drops to 8 hopefuls — but still has little hope of an easy endgame

House GOP speaker field drops to 8 hopefuls — but still has little hope of an easy endgame

House Republicans’ sprawling speaker field fell from nine to eight candidates on Monday night — even as many of them admit their three-week fight for the gavel likely won’t wrap up neatly anytime soon.

Eight GOP lawmakers are now seeking the party’s internal speaker nomination after Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) announced Monday night during a closed-door candidate meeting that he would drop out of the race. Many of his colleagues predicted that Meuser would have received among the lowest votes of the declared candidates during Tuesday’s scheduled balloting.

But that slight winnowing of the field didn’t leave Republicans any closer to confidence that their latest closed-door speaker votes can produce a nominee who can win the crucial 217 votes on the floor.

“I like to be an optimist, but I would tell you the last four weeks have not provided me a lot of reason to be optimistic that Republicans are going to have their act together,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), who leads the more centrist Main Street Caucus.

Given Republicans’ four-vote margin of control and a unified Democratic caucus, Johnson reminded reporters, it only takes a handful of members to “decide they want to blow the whole thing up.”

Inside the room, Monday night’s meeting gave Republicans a fresh opportunity to press the remaining speaker candidates. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), for example, asked each contender about whether they would conduct intense oversight of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland — the latter over his handling of detainees from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“I want to know, which one you have the balls to hold them accountable?” Greene asked the speaker candidates inside the room, according to a source familiar with her remarks.

The eight candidates also got quizzed on their approaches to new aid for Ukraine, which many House conservatives oppose.

Even as they acknowledged it was nearly impossible to envision a speaker getting elected this week, many Republican lawmakers described the task as urgent. Since Kevin McCarthy’s ouster from the speakership 20 days ago, GOP lawmakers have so far denied both Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) the near-unanimous support required to win the gavel on the floor.

“We’re at a point as a conference where we’ve exhausted a lot of options. We’ve aired a lot of grievances,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told reporters when he left the meeting. “We are listening to the people we represent, and they demand us to get back to work — and that means getting to 217 and governing.”

The latest round of speaker candidates includes current GOP leaders — like Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson (R-La.) — as well as more surprising rank and file members like Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.). Another last-minute entrant in the race, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), who serves as GOP policy chair, raised eyebrows on Sunday since he’d offered no previous signal of interest.

Still more Republicans seem to have held off on seeking the speakership now with an eye to a possible new round of voting, should the winner of the current race fall short this week. Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), who had been encouraged to run by fellow Texans, announced Sunday that he wouldn’t jump in — for now.

“I’m standing down for this round,” Arrington told POLITICO. “Hope we get there.”

Republicans will gather again in the same room on Tuesday morning and begin whittling down the eight remaining candidates until one reaches a majority, likely via multiple rounds of voting. After the conclusion of each ballot, the candidate with the lowest number will be axed — unless some who see lower tallies choose to drop out before they fall short.

Meanwhile, at least one Republican tried to strike an upbeat tone.

“I’m optimistic right now. And I’m hoping that [someone gets 217] really, I’m hopeful, not only for us as an institution, but for the American people,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), a centrist.

Jennifer Scholtes contributed.

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