Oct. 24 (UPI) -- House Republicans picked their fourth speaker candidate, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, in a secret-ballot vote Tuesday evening after Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota dropped his bid for the position.
Johnson won 128 votes during the 8 p.m. EDT meeting, but it is still unclear if he can get to 217 to break the GOP stalemate. A floor vote could happen as early as Wednesday afternoon.
The House has been without a speaker for three weeks after former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California was ousted from the leadership role.
Johnson, 51, was elected to Congress in 2016 and, according to colleagues, has avoided making political enemies in the House. To secure the speakership, Johnson will need to win at least 217 of the 221 Republican votes.
Emmer, who was the third speaker candidate, dropped out of the running Tuesday afternoon, just three hours after GOP members chose him.
Former President Donald Trump took credit for Emmer's demise on Truth Social.
Calling Emmer "totally out-of-touch with Republican voters" and a "Globalist RINO," Trump said. "He's done. It's over. I killed him."
Twenty-six Republicans reportedly either voted present or for another candidate, indicating that Emmer was far from the 217 votes needed to win. After meeting with holdouts on Tuesday afternoon, Emmer decided to step aside.
Trump was asked about the string of nominees who have been unable to garner the necessary support and drop out consideration.
"I said there's only one person that can do it all the way, you know who that is? That's Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ came down and said 'I want to be Speaker,' he would do it," Trump told Politico. "Other than that I haven't seen anyone that can guarantee it. But at some point I think we're going to have somebody pretty soon."
There were reportedly 6 candidates in the mix in a fourth attempt at electing a House speaker.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said Emmer had not swayed any of his opponents as he made his rounds. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana has suggested revisiting votes for either Kevin Hern of Oklahoma or Mike Johnson of Louisiana.
"Tom Emmer has secured the nomination but no longer has a path to secure 217 votes," Rosendale tweeted. "It's time to get back in the room and give Kevin Hern and Mike Johnson an opportunity to get to 217!"
Johnson faced Emmer in the final secret vote to select a speaker designate earlier Tuesday afternoon, according to a social media post by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. Hern was eliminated earlier in the morning.
GOP members held a series of votes to whittle the field to one candidate to present for a full House vote. Eight candidates entered the day pursuing the gavel.
Emmer led the way round after round. He was endorsed by ousted House Speaker McCarthy.
Following Emmer's selection, Republicans held a roll call vote to establish a record of who plans to vote for or against him.
The conference began gathering again after 4 p.m. EDT. It was then that Emmer announced he was bowing out.
Emmer, the House majority whip, was one of the only candidates who did not vote to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Democrats and some Republicans were critical of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio when he was the speaker-designate because he has not publicly accepted Trump's loss to Joe Biden.
Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, who opposed Jordan, voted for Emmer three times when Jordan took votes to the floor.
"Our conference remains at a crossroads and the deck is stacked against us," Emmer said in a statement announcing his candidacy. "We have no choice but to fight like hell to hold onto our House majority and deliver on our conservative agenda."
Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania had withdrawn his name before Tuesday's meeting. The other candidates were swiftly eliminated: Reps. Pete Sessions of Texas, Jack Bergman of Michigan, Byron Donalds of Florida, Austin Scott of Georgia, Gary Palmer of Alabama and Hern.
All candidates signed a unity pledge, introduced by Rep. Mike Flood of Nebraska agreeing to support the speaker-designate on the House floor.
"Electing the next speaker of the House will require unity from House Republicans," Flood said in a statement. "This pledge is a new effort to help our conference put our differences aside and come together. I'm urging all my colleagues to join this pledge so we can move forward with electing a speaker and get on with the people's business."
The conference held a forum Monday night to allow candidates to deliver their pitches and answer questions.
It is the second time that House Republicans held a secret vote to select a speaker designee. They did so two weeks ago with only two candidates. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana defeated Jordan, after a process spanned most of the business day. Scalise stepped aside days later after failing to rally enough support to earn the 217 votes required to be elected.
Jordan then began a failed campaign for the gavel, falling further away from being elected in three rounds of voting.
The role has been vacant for three weeks, leaving Congress unable to conduct business, including approving aid for Israel and Ukraine and working to avoid a government shutdown next month.
As speaker designate, Emmer had the ability to call for a vote on the House floor at a time of his choosing, doing so multiple times if necessary. After Jordan's three ill-fated attempts to be voted in, Republicans are reportedly seeking confirmation that a candidate has 217 votes before taking the issue to the floor. A designate can only lose four Republican votes and earn the majority needed without any support from Democrats.
Democrats have stopped short of saying they would help Emmer over the threshold. In a weekly press conference on Tuesday, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said his conference had not discussed voting "present" on the House floor to lower the bar for Emmer.
"It's not on us to fix the Republican dysfunction," Aguilar said. "But we're serious about making this place work."
Democrats have united behind House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. Jeffries earned more votes (212) than Jordan in each round of speaker voting.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., said the impetus for eight Republicans voting to remove McCarthy was him working with Democrats on a resolution to keep the government funded through Nov. 17.
"That was the hard line for some in the Republican caucus," she said. "If their hard line is if you work with Democrats you will lose Republican support, that's not a place for governance."