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Trump declines to endorse GOP speaker candidate for now, says he’s "trying to stay out of it"

Washington — Former President Donald Trump is so far declining to endorse any candidate as the Republican nominee for House speaker, saying Monday that he is aiming to stay out of the race for now, even as some of the contenders seek his backing.

House Republicans held a forum Monday night behind closed doors with the candidates for speaker. Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania dropped out, bringing down the total number of GOP contenders from nine to eight.

Trump weighed in on the House GOP’s tumultuous effort to elect a new speaker during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, where he filed to run in the state’s GOP primary. It’s unclear how much of an impact the former president’s backing would have on the race for speaker — he endorsed Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid last week, but after three failed rounds of voting on the House floor, the Ohio congressman was forced to drop out of the race Friday.

“I’m staying above it. I have to right now,” the former president told reporters. “But I’ve spoken to just about all the candidates, there are quite a few of them. And they’re terrific people.”

Trump said many of the Republicans seeking the conference’s speaker nomination have reached out and asked for his support, but the former president said, “I have to hold it for a while.”

Republicans are set to meet behind closed doors Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. to select their next speaker nominee by secret ballot.Eight GOP lawmakersare vying for the nomination, though it is unclear whether any of them will be able to secure the 217 votes needed to earn the gavel when the full House convenes for a formal election.

The candidate field includes Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama, Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.

“We had great dialogue across a myriad of questions, which, there was a really broad range of questions,” Bergman said of Monday night’s forum. “There was the sharing of ideas, the sharing of priorities. But what I sensed was a need to move forward, because that’s what the American people want from us.”

Emmer, asked if he would push for a floor vote Tuesday if he wins the nomination, said it’s up to “the will of the conference.”

Despite the chaos of the last two weeks, Republican Rep. Don Bacon expressed optimism when he emerged from the candidate forum.

“I think we’ll have a speaker tomorrow night,” Bacon said, without offering supporting evidence.

Of the candidates, only Emmer and Scott voted to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Rep. Mike Flood of Nebraska said all of the candidates have signed a unity pledge.

Trump spoke with at least two of the contenders, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Republican Study Committee chairman Kevin Hern, over the weekend, but said he’s “sort of trying to stay out of” the speaker’s race.

“We’re looking at a lot of people, and you know I’m sort of trying to stay out of it as much as possible,” Trump said. “But they’ll get it straightened out.”

The former president noted that the GOP’s eventual speaker nominee faces a significant challenge in earning the requisite support.

“That four threshold is very tough. It’s a very tough thing, no matter who it is,” Trump said, referring to the maximum amount of Republican defections a candidate can afford and still become speaker. “I said there’s only one person that can do it all the way. You know who that is? Jesus Christ.”

Candidates have been pitching their platforms to colleagues.

Ahead of the forum on Monday night, Palmer released a five-point platform: Fund the government on time; pass real spending cuts; avoid short-term funding bills; enforce a 72-hour rule allowing Congress to review legislation before voting on it; and unite the Republican conference before going to the House floor.

Donalds told reporters his pitch is “very simple.”

“This is going to be a process where it’s member-driven, not speaker-driven,” he said. “We need to get back to work, secure our border, fund our government responsibly, and hold this administration accountable. And last but not least, our members, we’ve got to be focused on purpose and mission.”

The conference’s internal contest is the third it’s held this month following the historic removal of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from the position on Oct. 3. Since then, Republicans have struggled to unite behind a successor, leading to failed bids by its two earlier candidates, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Jordan.

The chaos within the GOP conference, which has grown more divided since McCarthy’s ouster, has left the House without a speaker for more than a month and ground legislative business in the lower chamber to a halt. Pressure is building on Republicans to figure out a solution though, as Congress is confronting numerous domestic and foreign crises that it is unable to respond to.

Some GOP lawmakers have proposed taking action to expand the powers of Rep. Patrick McHenry, who is serving as interim speaker, though doing so would require support from Democrats.

Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the House, were forced to restart what has been a messy process of electing a speaker Friday after they voted to drop Jordan as their nominee. The conservative firebrand had been bleeding support from his GOP colleagues across three rounds of voting on the House floor, foreclosing his path to the speakership.

Nikole Killion and Ellis Kim contributed to this report.

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