Updated Oct 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Who could be the next House speaker after Kevin McCarthy's ouster

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Nov. 3, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The historic removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker on Tuesday leaves Republicans without a clear successor, though several names have been floated.

The latest: Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) both announced they are running for speaker on Wednesday, becoming the first candidates to do so.

Why it matters: With House Republicans increasingly divided, electing another speaker with their slim majority could bring the chamber to a standstill, as it did with McCarthy's speaker election earlier this year.

  • It took Republicans 15 rounds of voting spread over five days to elect McCarthy in January, marking the first time in a century that a speaker required more than one ballot to take the gavel.
  • After being ousted, McCarthy said he would not run for speaker again.

Of note: As House Republicans search for a successor, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) will serve as acting speaker.

  • It's unclear how quickly representatives could move to elect a new speaker or how long it would take Republicans to reach an agreement in this unprecedented situation.
  • It's not clear whether House Republicans had a plan in place for if Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) motion to vacate succeeded, though some conservatives had proposed alternatives even before McCarthy's ouster.
  • Conservatives including Gaetz have noted that the Constitution does not explicitly state that the speaker must be a member of the House, but every one thus far has been.

Zoom in: Several names have been touted on Capitol Hill as potential new speakers. These include:

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaking in Congress in September 2023.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • The House majority leader had been proposed by several Republicans as McCarthy's natural successor before he announced his bid.
  • Scalise said he is running "with a strong sense of responsibility" and that he has "a proven track record of bringing together the diverse array of viewpoints" within the Republican party.
  • He will be running for speaker while undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Before he announced, at least two GOP lawmakers told Axios' Juliegrace Brufke that a caretaker speaker could assume the role until Scalise completes his treatment.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaking during a committee hearing in September 2023.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaking during a committee hearing in September 2023. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Jordan, a staunch supporter and defender of former President Trump, told Axios' Andrew Solender that he is running because "we need to unite the conference."
  • As the founding chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, it's unclear if Jordan would be able to win over moderate Republicans.
  • One moderate Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Axios that Jordan is a non-starter for them and roughly 15 to 20 other centrists.
  • It's also unknown if his hardcore conservative brand would conflict with the realities of governing the House and his party's slim majority in the chamber.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) in Congress in September 2023.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) in the Capitol building in September 2023. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images
  • Emmer has been suggested even though he's said he has no interest in replacing McCarthy.
  • Emmer is actually expected to run for majority leader, though his bid may fail if Scalise doesn't get the gavel, sources familiar confirmed to Axios.
  • Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) is running to replace Emmer should he become majority leader.
  • Emmer spent two election cycles as the National Republican Congressional Committee chair before ceding to Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) to become majority whip.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.)

Rep. Tom Cole speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Rep. Tom Cole, a McCarthy ally, is among the longest-serving GOP members in the House and chairs the Rules Committee.
  • Respected by both Republicans and Democrats, he could be a safe choice. But Cole has shot down the prospect of wanting to assume the role.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.)

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023.
  • Rep. Patrick McHenry, a close McCarthy ally, is now serving as acting speaker until a new one is elected.
  • The House Financial Services Chair told Axios ahead of the ouster last week that McCarthy is "the only person who can keep it together."

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.)

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) in the Capitol building in September 2023.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) in the Capitol building in September 2023. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • Hern, the Republican Study Committee Chair, said he'd support McCarthy for "as long as he's running."
  • He has not publicly commented on Gaetz saying he could support Hern as speaker, but noted that McCarthy said he wasn't throwing his hat back into the ring because "he just felt like he was not going to negotiate with Democrats."

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaking in a House committee hearing in April 2023.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaking in a House committee hearing in April 2023. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • Johnson was considered a universally respected member that could step into the position earlier this year when McCarthy was having trouble garnering the votes needed to become speaker.
  • The House Republican Conference vice chair voted against the motion to oust McCarthy, whom he supported for the role earlier this year after the conservative Freedom Caucus floated his name as a potential speaker.

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas)

Rep. Jodey Arrington in Washington, D.C, in May 2023.
Rep. Jodey Arrington in Washington, D.C, in May 2023. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • Gaetz told reporters he could see himself supporting Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) for the speakership role.
  • Arrington, the House budget chair, publicly expressed his opposition to removing McCarthy before voting against the measure.

Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.)

Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) speaking in a House committee hearing in in December 2022.
Former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) speaking in a House committee hearing in in December 2022. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Zeldin, who was defeated in the New York gubernatorial campaign by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), has been considered as the House's first non-member speaker.
  • He has experience in the House after representing New York's First Congressional District from 2015 to 2023.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaking in the Capitol building in September 2023. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • With Republicans in the majority, House Minority Leader Jeffries becoming speaker is a long shot.
  • But if the House enters an unprecedented stalemate as another shutdown deadline looms, it's possible (but improbable) that some Republicans may join with Democrats to make Jeffries speaker.
  • Though Republicans would still retain the majority and could vote against bills brought to the floor by Jeffries, those who worked with the other side of the aisle would likely face severe backlash from their constituents and could lose their seat.

Go deeper: What happens next after McCarthy ouster

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