It’s no secret now that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) plans to try to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week in Congress, but what still is a secret is who he plans to put in McCarthy’s place if he were to succeed in the extremely long-shot goal.
Until now, that is, as several sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News that Gaetz intends to try to rally the conference around House Majority Whip Tom Emmer for the job if it ever gets to that stage. That’s because House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who’s suffering from a debilitating cancer diagnosis, is not seen as someone who could take on the duties as Speaker—and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the House GOP conference chairwoman, is seen as a possible vice presidential contender who would not want the Speakership. Gaetz is not telling anyone this publicly, and would probably deny it or not answer the question directly if asked—because he knows the details if fleshed out ahead of any effort to oust McCarthy could seriously derail that push.
According to Politico, Gaetz has even floated Emmer’s name in conversations with the Democrats he is trying to get to side with him on a motion to vacate:
Also, as expected and noted above when Breitbart News said he would probably deny the report, after the publication of this story, Gaetz’s office reached out with a statement denying that Gaetz supports Emmer for Speaker.
“The premise of this story is absolutely false,” Gaetz says in the statement. “I am not backing Tom Emmer to become Speaker.”
To be clear, there is no reason to believe at all that Emmer is any part of this game Gaetz is playing. Emmer, sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News, is just as frustrated with Gaetz’s antics as most Republicans are and is not part of any coup effort Gaetz is leading. Even so, Punchbowl News reported on Monday morning that Emmer is not helping stop the effort either.
If it came down to that moment and Gaetz were able to pull off the desperate bid of convincing enough House Democrats to vote with him on his motion to vacate plans to remove McCarthy, that would paralyze the House until a new Speaker is elected. Gaetz would then, at such a point, urge his colleagues to rally behind Emmer—much like he did during the controversial House GOP whip race last year. Not only did Gaetz surprise many Republicans by backing Emmer over the more conservative Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), he actually whipped votes for Emmer during that timeframe. Banks has gone on to run for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, where he is easily the front-running candidate and expected to win the nomination and general election next year.
The problem for Gaetz with this whole situation is that a higher-profile position like Speaker of the House brings more scrutiny on his picks, and it could fray Gaetz’s close alliance with former President Donald Trump—the 2024 GOP frontrunner for president. Basically, Emmer may be doing a fine enough job as Majority Whip, but believing that that would translate into success in a higher position is not necessarily true—and it could lead to some serious issues for Trump on the back end.
Trump and McCarthy have always had an on-again-off-again type relationship, and while they have had bumps in the road they do work well together—and the two share some political staff as well. Many of the growing number of House Republicans endorsing Trump for president in 2024 are very close with Trump’s political campaign staff—and very close with McCarthy’s team too. And while McCarthy himself has yet to formally endorse Trump, he basically all but has endorsed the former president saying in an interview a few weeks ago that he expects Trump will be the nominee and that Trump’s one-time chief rival for the nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not have what it takes to win.
While Trump and McCarthy may have some very minor differences in terms of legislative strategy or political strategy, Emmer and Trump are on two different planets in many of these regards. Before Emmer was the House Majority Whip, in the last Congress when the GOP was in the minority seeking the majority, Emmer was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
As chairman of the NRCC, Emmer regularly criticized Trump—and even encouraged GOP candidates nationwide to never say Trump’s name. The shocking August 2022 CNN report that revealed this guidance Emmer was giving to candidates—which his staff confirmed on the record—noted the contrast between Emmer and McCarthy, which is that McCarthy openly embraced Trump whereas Emmer shunned him.
That was not anything new, either, as back in the fall of 2021 Emmer dismissed Trump’s engagement in the 2022 midterm elections as the musings of a “private citizen.”
Earlier that year, in March 2021, Emmer even went so far as to defend the 10 Republicans—like then-Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)—who voted to impeach Trump from Trump-inspired efforts to remove them. “He can do whatever he wants,” Emmer said in a Politico interview just weeks after the second impeachment vote. “But I would tell him that it’s probably better for us that we keep these people and we make sure that we have a majority that can be sustained going forward.”
In other words: If Emmer had his way then, of course, Cheney and Kinzinger and the rest of them would still be in Congress. Emmer did not get his way in the end as Kinzinger and several others retired while Cheney and several others were defeated at the ballot box in GOP primaries.
Even as far back as before the 2016 presidential election when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emmer was regularly ripping what Trump stood for—and was talking about a future party after Trump.
This attitude continues to this day, albeit more subdued now that Trump is clearly here to stay, as for instance back earlier this year when Trump faced his first indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg it was Emmer who waited days to say anything about it. Republicans were gathered for their GOP retreat in Orlando, Florida, and McCarthy, Scalise, and Stefanik all ripped into the Bragg indictment as a political weaponization of government. But Emmer was silent until reporters pressed him on it at a press conference outside the Ritz Carlton where he finally said he thinks what Bragg did was “outrageous,” echoing comments from the others who did so proactively.
All of this all being said, Gaetz’s chances of succeeding at ousting McCarthy are dimming quickly as it becomes clearer and clearer that the GOP base is not going along with his antics this time—despite his claims to the contrary on CNN of all places—and as it becomes clearer that for Gaetz to succeed he needs a very sizable number of Democrats to go with him. For what it’s worth, Gaetz is actually sending out fundraising emails with video of his CNN interview talking about going after McCarthy—a move sure to infuriate both most of the Republicans who are with McCarthy and the Democrats Gaetz would need to go along with his schemes to succeed.
Top conservatives like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) are publicly opposed to the effort, as are groups like FreedomWorks. And given Democrats’ unwillingness to help the “extreme MAGA Republicans” as they call people like Gaetz, it seems unlikely that Gaetz can get the support he needs from the Democrat Party to pull this off—hence why Gaetz was reportedly in pure desperation even offering Democrats subpoena power if they helped him.
But the only variable out there is Trump, who has for now stayed steadfastly with McCarthy. But if Trump were to go along with Gaetz’s antics this time, he could end up making things a lot gnarlier for himself moving forward—especially if Gaetz’s guy, Emmer, got the job.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Gaetz sent by his office after publication.