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GOP speaker candidates pull out of Fox forum after fierce blowback

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Getty Images

By Melanie Zanona and Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) — House speaker candidates have pulled out of a planned joint interview on Fox News next week just hours after it was announced amid fierce blowback from GOP lawmakers, the latest sign of how simmering tensions within the conference are boiling over as Republicans scramble to find a new leader following Kevin McCarthy’s stunning ouster.

Both of the leading Republican candidates for speaker – Rep. Jim Jordan and Majority Leader Steve Scalise – backtracked from the plan to be interviewed jointly on Fox News with anchor Bret Baier from the Capitol next Monday after it had been announced by the network Friday morning. A third potential speaker candidate also said he would not participate in the forum.

A source familiar with the matter said Jordan and Scalise talked Friday and they agreed it wouldn’t be wise, so the forum is now off.

A spokesperson for Fox News didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida told CNN on Friday morning the idea was not “productive,” saying that the question of who should be speaker should be debated internally amongst Republicans – not broadcast for TV.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Gimenez said.

He also added he is now having second thoughts about the candidates and questioning their decision-making. “If both of them thought this was a good idea, then maybe they don’t have a pulse of the conference,” Gimenez said. “I’m having serious problems.”

A spokesman for Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said Friday morning that he would not participate in the event until he was able to address the conference first, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday. And a spokesperson for Scalise also told CNN the majority leader will not be participating.

A source familiar with the matter said Scalise initially turned down the Fox News event but was told that two others – Jordan and Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern – had already committed to participate.

CNN reported Thursday the House GOP conference was scheduled to have an in-person meeting at 6 p.m. ET on Monday ahead of the GOP’s speaker candidates’ forum on Tuesday and their internal election on Wednesday.

“Mr. Jordan is always happy to share his plan for the country, but he believes it is crucial to meet with the GOP conference before the event,” a Jordan spokesman told CNN.

Fox News said in a press release Friday morning that Baier was holding an “exclusive joint interview” with Scalise, Jordan and Hern from the Capitol on Monday. The press release was later deleted from Fox’s website.

Hern, who has not yet declared his candidacy for the speaker’s gavel, was the first to publicly withdraw from the event on Friday.

“I still haven’t made a decision on my candidacy for speaker, but I know one thing for sure. I will not be participating in the televised debate,” Hern posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “We need to make this decision as a conference, not on TV. The Republican conference needs a family discussion.”

Multiple House Republicans told CNN they were infuriated by the decision for speaker candidates to participate in a televised interview from the Capitol on Monday before speaking to the GOP conference, and several of them have already communicated those frustrations to the speaker candidates.

One lawmaker called it “insanity” and said that “people are pissed.” Another Republican complained that it would turn their speaker’s race into a “circus.” A third predicted the event would not go on as planned because of the all the pushback it had already generated internally.

However, at least one Republican voiced support for the idea.

“How can anyone be infuriated by this? Our Republican base deserves to hear from the candidates running for this important position at this critical time for our party and country,” Rep. Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican who is backing Jordan, wrote on X.

Typically, internal party races for leadership seats are a closed-door affair, where candidates work behind the scenes to lobby their colleagues for support in secret ballots.

But the unprecedented speaker’s race that’s now following Kevin McCarthy’s removal in a floor vote has already proven to have an outsized element of outside influence even before the Fox event was floated – as former President Donald Trump has weighed in to endorse Jordan.

The attempt from both Jordan and Scalise to distance themselves from the Fox candidate forum plans follows an angry response from moderates in the conference, who are a key constituency as both try to position themselves as the best consensus candidate in the conference to be the next speaker.

Moderate Republicans could play a key role in who ultimately wins the speakership because there is a contingent of GOP lawmakers uneasy about the conservative politics of both Jordan and Scalise and still angry at their hardline faction for ousting McCarthy in this week’s unprecedented floor vote.

Interim speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry told reporters Friday there will be an update for the conference on next week’s schedule later in the day.

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CNN’s Oliver Darcy contributed.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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