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The House is without a speaker, nearly 3 weeks after Kevin McCarthy was ousted

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, House Republicans try again to select a House speaker.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. The math is the same as it was when Republicans unseated Kevin McCarthy and then rejected two candidates to replace him. Republicans do not want to rely on Democrats to choose a speaker, so they have to unite almost all of their narrow majority, which McCarthy told NBC his colleagues are not ready to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

KEVIN MCCARTHY: This is embarrassing for the Republican Party. It's embarrassing for the nation. And we need to look at one another and solve the problem.

INSKEEP: The numerous candidates do not include Domenico Montanaro, NPR senior political editor and correspondent, although he is our speaker for the next segment of the program. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: And I certainly would qualify because anybody can be speaker.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) That's good to know.

MONTANARO: You too, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thank you. Thank you. Glad to know. But who are the actual contenders?

MONTANARO: Well, there are nine of them now who are officially running. They stand out for not really standing out, I have to tell you. You know, many of these candidates have been working the phones all weekend to try and secure support ahead of this expected closed-door candidate forum later today and maybe, just maybe, a vote on Tuesday.

The candidate getting the most buzz right now is Tom Emmer. He's a congressman from Minnesota. He's the party whip, which is the chief vote counter, No. 3 in House leadership. He's McCarthy's pick. McCarthy says Emmer can do it on Day 1. But the hard right also needs to be on board here because the margins are so narrow, and they could be a huge stumbling block.

INSKEEP: Why would that be?

MONTANARO: Well, they might have liked Emmer, who first ran for office - you know, the one who was known as a conservative firebrand in Minnesota. He won the endorsement of Sarah Palin and Tea Party groups for his very close bid for governor and then his subsequent run for Congress. But Emmer's taken a pretty different approach since coming to Congress. You know, rather than making headlines with controversial comments like, by the way, his predecessor, Michele Bachmann, or Jim Jordan, he's been a pragmatist and spent time learning the inside game. You know, he ran the National Republican Campaign Committee, which is responsible for trying to get House members elected. That wins you some pretty big goodwill, you know, with your colleagues. And he really rose up the leadership chain by building relationships. He even did so with some Democrats on the committees he served on.

INSKEEP: This might explain a tweet or an X or whatever that I saw over the weekend. Dean Phillips, who is also from Minnesota but a Democrat in Congress, says it would be good to have a Minnesotan in the House speaker's chair. Hope he works with Democrats. It sounds like Phillips would like this.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And Phillips also causing his own waves in the presidential primary, threatening to run against President Biden. But, you know, that does point to the problem here. You know, to put it bluntly, Emmer has a huge Trump problem. You know, Trump allies just don't trust him. They don't think he's pro-Trump enough. Emmer hasn't endorsed Trump in the presidential primary, did not back up Trump's election lies. Boris Epshteyn, a senior Trump adviser, went on Steve Bannon's podcast and told the former Trump campaign chairman this about Emmer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WAR ROOM")

BORIS EPSHTEYN: If somebody is so out of step with where the Republican electorate is, where the MAGA movement is, how can they even be in the conversation? We need a MAGA speaker.

MONTANARO: And that is very much seen as a message from Trump himself.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Unlike a lot of other Republicans, Emmer did not vote to object to the will of the people as expressed in the 2020 election against Trump and for Joe Biden.

So how do you - how do Republicans get out of this?

MONTANARO: Well, it's all got to end somehow. I can't tell you how because the path is not clear right now. But the pragmatists in the party want to fund the wars in Ukraine and Israel, keep the government open. Without funding, it'll shut down in less than three weeks. But if you listen to people like Bannon, the Trump wing just doesn't care. They welcome a government shutdown. And all of this drama really is, though, a reflection of the divide within the Republican Party since the rise of Trump, his continued grip on the heart of the party and the battle for what it's going to be.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks for speaking with us.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.