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Nine candidates for speaker of the House make their cases

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you are keeping count at home, it has been 20 days since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted, 20 days that the House of Representatives, and thus the United States Congress, have not been able to make laws. In that time, House Republicans nominated two other candidates for speaker, but neither could attract enough votes from within their conference to win the job. Well, today, eight new candidates made their pitches to serve as speaker. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh was listening and joins us from the Capitol. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, so eight - this is a big field. Anybody emerging as the favorite?

WALSH: It's hard to say because the House Republican Conference is just so divided right now. There were actually nine candidates originally when the meeting started tonight, and one dropped out. But right now Tom Emmer is really the leading candidate. He's the current No. 3 House Republican leader who serves as the whip. He's in charge of vote counting. So he has a big operation. He ran the House Republicans' campaign committee for two cycles. He's raised a lot of money and campaigned for a lot of members. I ran into Emmer earlier at the Capitol today, and he said he thought members would come together tonight. Two other candidates who currently serve in leadership positions are also running - Mike Johnson from Louisiana and Gary Palmer from Alabama.

KELLY: Now, I know former President Trump had endorsed Jim Jordan, and alert listeners will notice he has not become Speaker Jordan. He ended his run after he lost three ballots on the House floor. Will he be involved in this race?

WALSH: It doesn't look like it. Campaigning in New Hampshire today, Trump told reporters he's talked to most of the candidates that are running, but he's staying out of the race. It is worth noting that Tom Emmer and one other candidate running, Austin Scott from Georgia, both voted to certify the 2020 election results. So they clearly broke with Trump there.

KELLY: So tell us a little bit more - what the action is tonight and when they might choose a nominee.

WALSH: All eight candidates made their presentations for how they think they can bring the party together and run the house. They talked at a closed-door meeting and took questions from all the candidates. It's been really a free-for-all since Jim Jordan was forced to end his bid on Friday. Candidates have been calling members, getting their supporters to call members, sending around letters with their plans. Tomorrow morning, the House Republican Conference votes again behind closed doors by secret ballot. It could take several rounds and possibly last all day.

KELLY: Yeah. And tell me more about the other candidates. You mentioned Emmer. Who else should we keep our eye on?

WALSH: Some of the people I'm watching include Kevin Hern from Oklahoma. He's pitching his experience in business. He was in management at McDonald's before he was elected to the House. He's also talking a lot about his current role chairing a large group of fiscal conservatives as a big selling point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN HERN: We have 80% of the conference, which is the House Freedom Caucus, all the way to problem solvers and everybody in between. And we work on policy that we all agree on.

WALSH: There's also Byron Donalds from Florida. He's an African American Republican elected in 2020. He's the one member of the House Freedom Caucus who's running for speaker. Pete Sessions from Texas was once in leadership. He sees this as a chance to maybe get back in. And he has - comes from a state, Texas, with a large Republican delegation. There's also Michigan Republican Jack Bergman, a retired marine, touting his experience in the military.

KELLY: So the timing, Deirdre, if Republicans do actually finally agree on somebody, when would the full House vote?

WALSH: It could possibly vote as soon as tomorrow night. The temporary speaker, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, is really hoping that whoever is nominated can move quickly from the internal vote to the floor. But then we get back to the same issue, though. Can any Republican who's nominated unite almost all House Republicans and lock up 217 votes on the House floor?

KELLY: Thank you, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: NPR's Deirdre Walsh at the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.