NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Southeast Tennessee, briefly entered the Republican Conference race for U.S. House speaker Tuesday. He was eliminated in the first round of voting.
Also jumping into the contest for the vacant seat amid ongoing chaos among divided House GOP lawmakers was another Tennessee Republican, U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Clarksville. He was eliminated in the second round.
The pair were among five seeking the top slot as majority House Republicans looked to end infighting among factions that have tied the chamber in knots now for six weeks amid a looming budget crisis and wars in the Middle East and Europe.
Fleischmann, 61, was first elected to Congress in 2010 and is chair of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, a powerful position known in Washington as a cardinal because of its sway over funding decisions.
He came in last in the first round of conference voting late Tuesday, not advancing to the second round.
According to Politico, Mike Johnson of Louisiana received 85 votes, Byron Donalds of Florida received 32, Green of Tennessee received 23, Roger Williams of Texas received 21 and Fleischmann received 10.
Green, 58, is a physician and businessman who served in Iraq.
"I commend Congressman Fleischmann for being willing to throw his hat in the ring for this important role," state Rep. Greg Vital, a Republican from Georgetown, stated in a text early evening to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "Chuck loves the institution of Congress and would work hard with the Republican caucus to protect America and maintain integrity."
Vital also noted, "Obviously, a Speaker of the House of Representatives from Tennessee and specifically from Chattanooga would be beneficial to the region."
Kent Syler, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University, said by phone before the vote that he thinks it's good to see Tennesseans stepping up to fill the "void" in House GOP leadership.
"It's really impossible to know what they're looking for," Syler said. "I think it's probably less about their skills as a speaker than it is about trying to make all sides comfortable with you. Under normal circumstances Rep. Fleischmann would be an excellent candidate and maybe under these circumstances. But it's impossible for voters to understand what they're looking for."
Syler said he thinks Fleischmann as a compromise candidate among the warring GOP factions would have many of the "necessary qualities" and has demonstrated he can work with different sides in his leadership position on the Appropriations Committee.
"And he has been very uncontroversial," Syler added.
The House has been left without a speaker since Oct. 4 when then-Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California was ousted by eight hard-right Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett of Knoxville, and 208 Democrats.
A divided Republican Conference has since nominated several would-be speaker candidates, none of whom have survived. The latest was earlier Monday when House Majority Whip Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, dropped out of the speaker's race just hours after winning the GOP nomination.
Balloting continued late into the evening with the candidates who did progress beyond the first round.
Even if Republican conference members settle on a candidate, which they have done several times since McCarthy was removed from the post, it's not clear the GOP can unify around one candidate to win a vote on the House floor, where Democrats have been united behind Hakeem Jeffries of NewYork.