Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota wants to be the next House Majority Leader, but he’s already facing a formidable obstacle: the wrath of Trump World.
Shortly after Emmer announced on Wednesday that he was running for the leadership position, a group of Trump’s Congressional and media allies began plotting to derail his candidacy, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The role is one of several leadership slots that may soon open up amid the fallout from the House removing California Republican Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. The current majority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is a leading contender to replace McCarthy.
The source of MAGA World’s grievances against Emmer are manifold: Emmer voted to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 election. As the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2022, he reportedly implored Republican candidates in the midterms to distance themselves from Trump. And he’s been telling GOP donors that he won’t support Trump’s 2024 presidential primary campaign. “You can’t have the majority leader of the Republican Party being very anti-Trump and against his agenda,” one source close to Trump tells TIME. “That’s just not going to work. There’s no trust there.”
As the GOP’s current House Majority Whip, he’s next in line to move up the leadership chain. But Trump loyalists insist that the former President, who has a commanding lead in virtually all of the Republican primary polls, would have a hard time working with Emmer if he’s elected president next year.
They cite an August 2022 story on CNN.com that quotes Emmer telling GOP candidates to “focus on the issues that matter to voters” as a sign of his disloyalty. Another Republican strategist who participated in NRCC meetings at the time tells TIME that Emmer counseled House candidates to avoid talk of Trump. “Tom Emmer repeatedly told candidates across the country not to cozy up to Donald Trump because he could be a drag on their race,” the operative says.
Emmer’s team says he never told candidates to distance themselves from Trump, but to craft their campaign strategies around winning voters in their districts. “Whip Emmer is focused on earning the support of his colleagues for House Majority Leader,” an aide to Emmer, Michael McAdams, tells TIME. “If he is successful in that effort, he looks forward to working with President Trump just like he did as NRCC Chair.”
A Trump spokesman declined to comment.
McCarthy’s dramatic downfall has set off a scramble among Republicans to pick their next leader. The situation is even more precarious as Congress has only a little more than a month before government funding is set to expire. Some of the early favorites to replace McCarthy include Scalise and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, both of whom have already confirmed their candidacies.
Sources close to Trump say he is letting the Speaker’s election play out, even as some of his top Congressional boosters, like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have floated the former President himself as a potential McCarthy successor. Yet the MAGA faithful have taken an acute interest in the way the House reshuffling could reverberate further down the GOP leadership ladder, sending a signal to House Republicans that they should block Emmer’s ascension.
Emmer has been a member of Congress since 2015. Last year, he was elected GOP majority whip, the third highest position in House Republican leadership, in a competitive three-way battle in which Emmer’s adversaries leveled some of the same charges against him. During the 2022 midterms, he led the NRCC, the main arm of the GOP tasked with electing Republicans to the House, when the party picked up fewer seats than expected but still won a narrow House majority. Emmer recently called Trump a “fantastic ally” and criticized the multiple criminal prosecutions against the former President as an “abuse of power.” But he hasn’t endorsed Trump or any other candidate to run against Joe Biden in 2024.
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