10 dark horse candidates for Speaker of the House

What happens if neither Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay MORE (R-La.) can secure the 218 votes needed to become the next Speaker?

A small group of House Republicans has already begun meeting in the Capitol complex to discuss that scenario, some participants told The Hill. The GOP lawmakers, none of whom wanted to be identified, said the secretive talks have centered on who would be interested — and who would be a viable candidate — if both McCarthy and Scalise stumble.

“What happens if nobody can secure enough votes for Speaker?” said one of the participants. “It’s a legitimate question; it’s not about being disloyal to Kevin McCarthy.”

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“This is headed to a chaotic climax. I don’t think it will be as clean as we’re being told it is,” the source said, noting that members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are not involved in the discussions. “There are some Plan B meetings taking place.”


Retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.) has already backed McCarthy, his chief deputy and heir apparent, to succeed him. But Scalise, the No. 3 Republican, is expected to run for the top job if McCarthy suddenly drops his bid like he did in 2015, after conservatives declined to back him.

Some Republicans, however, say Scalise — who survived a near-fatal shooting last summer and whom President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE has dubbed “the legend from Louisiana” — also might come up short if Republicans keep the majority.

Such a scenario could throw the Speaker’s race into complete disarray, raising the possibility that a dark horse candidate could emerge. Here are 10 House Republicans who could be propelled into the Speaker’s office if the current front-runners can’t secure the votes.

Rep. Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Local banks can lead bipartisan efforts on financial regulation Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown MORE (N.C.)

After a tumultuous series of events in 1998, Chief Deputy Whip Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Current shutdown impasse is a fight over peanuts Feehery: Why Democrats oppose the wall Feehery: How Republicans can counter the possible impeachment push MORE (R-Ill.) found himself unexpectedly holding the Speaker’s gavel. That’s why some Republicans have pointed to Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Scalise’s right-hand man and chief deputy whip, as a potential Speaker.

McHenry, always impeccably dressed with a bow tie, is intensely loyal to Scalise. But some GOP colleagues have applauded his performance filling in for Scalise as the top GOP vote counter after Scalise was critically wounded during a shooting on a baseball field in June 2017. They described McHenry as tough but fair.

One House Republican said he recently introduced a friend to McHenry this way: “If you’re laying 20-to-1 odds, this is a good guy to bet on being Speaker sometime in his lifetime.”

When asked whether he would be interested in the gig, McHenry scoffed at the idea.

“Not running,” he told The Hill as he power-walked out of the Capitol.

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFlorida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor Corker: Breakthrough reached in shutdown stalemate Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  MORE (N.C.)

The Speaker’s gavel could fall into the hands of another powerful North Carolina Republican: Mark Walker.

As chairman of the largest caucus on Capitol Hill, the 160-member Republican Study Committee (RSC), Walker has seen his profile grow from lowly backbencher to conservative leader in two short years. The former Baptist preacher talks regularly with Trump, does weekly cable TV hits and takes part in the Speaker’s “cross-sectional” meeting.

When asked about the Speaker’s job, Walker declined to comment. But several RSC colleagues have praised Walker for taking the caucus in a more conservative direction, assuaging concerns that the group was getting too cozy with leadership.

“I think Mark Walker has done a tremendous job as chairman, leading the RSC and taking on issues and communicating well,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.).

Walker, however, has been known to make a verbal gaffe or two. During a news conference last year, Walker jokingly described female colleagues standing near him as RSC “eye candy.” And in May, Walker was forced to resign from the Speaker’s special search committee after he told reporters the next House chaplain should have a family, infuriating Catholic lawmakers in both parties.

Walker “doesn’t have the messaging discipline to properly articulate critical issues without fumbling the message,” one GOP lawmaker said at the time.

The GOP chairmen

If neither McCarthy nor Scalise secure the gavel, Republicans will be looking for another white knight like Ryan, who previously led the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee after leading the Budget Committee. The exclusive group of committee chairmen could be fertile ground this time around.

Lawmakers interviewed by The Hill consistently pointed to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ore.) as someone who could step up to the plate. They say Walden, who chaired the House GOP’s campaign arm for two election cycles, understands competitive races and red districts like his own.

And he has increased his visibility in the conference, having led the Energy and Commerce panel during the House GOP’s effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Some members, however, are worried he isn’t conservative enough. 

“He’s too liberal,” said one member of the House Freedom Caucus.

For his part, Walden said he’s happy in his current post.

“I have a very rewarding position as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee,” he said. “I’m quite pleased with it.”

Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTexas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law MORE, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has raised his national profile and boosted his conservative credentials since shepherding tax reform into law.

The Texas Republican, however, dismissed the idea he could be a dark horse candidate.

“I’m going to make it even darker, because I’m not running for Speaker,” Brady, who has served in Congress for more than 20 years, said in a brief interview.

Brady is well-liked in the GOP conference. Just as The Hill asked whether Brady could be convinced to run for Speaker by his colleagues, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona Abortion foes march into divided Washington McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-N.C.), as if on cue, interrupted the interview to heap praise on Brady.

“He is the most brilliant man,” Meadows said as he walked by, prompting a laugh from Brady. “If I had his intelligence and his looks, I’d be somebody.”

Another name that surfaces is Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal Grijalva backs Bishop over current acting Interior Secretary Dems question legality of park fees during shutdown MORE, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and former Utah Speaker of the House who is a stickler for process and “regular order.”

Bishop has said that he will leave Congress after 2020, when he’s term-limited as head of the Natural Resources panel.

But that could make Bishop, a Mormon and former National Rifle Association lobbyist, an appealing transitional figure to lead the GOP if there is no clear front-runner.

Bishop, known around the Capitol for his dry humor, joked that there were others who would become Speaker before himself.

“If I were running, the country would have to be in really, really bad shape,” Bishop said, though he acknowledged that some Republicans have tried to recruit him to run to help fix the broken legislative process, which he said “sucks.”

“I’ve basically dismissed it because I anticipate it will be an easy transition,” he added. “I still expect McCarthy to easily get the number.”

Republican women

The House GOP has never had a woman rise above the No. 4 spot, which is currently occupied by Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices Washington governor announces killer whale recovery plan MORE.

Given her perch in leadership, McMorris Rodgers is seen as a prime contender to move up the ladder. But the 49-year-old Washington Republican is facing a tough reelection race and has been met with criticism from younger lawmakers upset about the GOP’s messaging efforts.

One of those young guns is Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveWomen’s equality not just ‘firsts’ CBS News in talks to hire Flake: report Former reps Mia Love, Luis Gutiérrez join CNN as commentators MORE (R-Utah), a rising star who is also seen as someone who could potentially swoop in to lead the GOP.

The 42-year-old became the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, and since arriving on Capitol Hill she hasn’t been afraid to stand up to her party.

Love, who is Haitian-American, slammed Trump for calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries.” She also joined an insurgent group of Republicans in signing a discharge petition this year to circumvent leadership and force floor action on immigration legislation.

Another Republican woman who could unexpectedly win the Speaker’s gavel is Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerGOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection Congress must restrain power of new consumer financial director GOP congresswoman says she opted out of NRCC run because McCarthy had 'a different plan' MORE (Mo.), a former ambassador under President George W. Bush and former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

Wagner, a senior member of the GOP whip team, would bring gravitas, political savvy and a huge rolodex.

“I just think she has the political acumen, the fundraising prowess, and the look to be an effective national spokesman,” said a senior GOP aide. “She’s an adult.”

Freedom Caucus alternatives

While it would be a long shot, some members of the Freedom Caucus are eyeing an ambitious bid for the Speaker’s gavel.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify MORE, a former chairman of both the group and the RSC, had been reaching out to colleagues about a potential run. But in recent weeks, the Ohio Republican has seen his chances dwindle as he’s battled allegations that he failed to protect wrestlers from sexual abuse when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State University.

Mark Meadows, the caucus chairman, is a national figure and one of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill. But the North Carolina Republican has made many enemies in the conference and insists he’s not interested in being Speaker.

And Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoThe new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown The 7 Republicans who voted against back pay for furloughed workers MORE (Fla.), who ran for Speaker once before, told some of his colleagues earlier this year that he would be willing to throw his hat into the ring again, but only if Jordan opts against running.

“It would be tough for any Freedom Caucus member to get the support of the conference,” said one caucus member. “We’re still too marginalized.”