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'Too smart to want the job': Why no women are running for speaker of the House

Eleven men have pitched themselves to be the GOP nominee for speaker since Kevin McCarthy was ousted. Not one of the 33 Republican women in the House has joined them.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., left, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La.,
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., both took shots at becoming speaker.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

WASHINGTON — As Republicans remain stalled on picking the next House speaker, nearly a dozen men have looked in the mirror and — despite little to no name recognition or the possibility of getting the job — imagined themselves as the most powerful person in the House.

Zero women within the GOP’s ranks have moved to do the same.

That’s not because there aren’t options. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York serves as the No. 4 Republican in leadership. Reps. Lisa McClain of Michigan and Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma also serve in leadership roles. And three Republican women serve as committee chairs.

Asked about the lack of women tossing their hats in the ring for his old job, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy told NBC News, “I don’t know.”

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McCarthy noted that there were more Republican women (33) elected to the House in 2022 than in any previous election. “I think a number of them would make great speakers, and I believe in the future they will,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the first woman to wield the speaker’s gavel. No Republican woman has ever advanced beyond the role of conference chair — the position currently held by Stefanik and filled by former Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and before her. 

“There is still, I hate to say it, a glass ceiling that the conference chair is the ‘girl job,’” one Republican strategist who previously worked in the House told NBC News, speaking on anonymously to be more candid about the state of their party.

Still, there are others who wonder if it’s not something else — call it, women’s intuition — keeping them away from the most thankless job in Congress.

“We have one woman in leadership, three women with powerful gavels, and at least another dozen who would be most capable of being an effective Speaker,” Julie Conway, who runs VIEW PAC — a conservative group that works to elect more women to Congress — told NBC News, noting it’s “disappointing” that “not a single female candidate has been publicly suggested by anyone” to lead.

“The upside, of course,” Conway quipped, “is that all of these women are too smart to want the job! No offense to the eventual speaker.”

Another GOP operative who works on congressional races echoed that.

“Women are smart enough to realize that this position is going to be a chopping block for whoever gets it,” they said, pointing out that the issues any speaker would have to deal with next — avoiding a government shutdown next month and providing aid for foreign wars, to name a few — are thankless jobs that will be thorny for Republicans.

But the GOP operative also pointed out that even as Republicans add women to their ranks at a historic clip, “you also have a built-in boys' club" in the House GOP.

The women of the conference, for their part, were muted about tossing their female colleagues — or themselves — to the wolves.

“You know, I don’t know, I thought of that,” freshman Rep. Jen Kiggans of Virginia said, adding that she "certainly would appreciate if we could, hopefully," have a Republican woman as speaker "someday soon.”

“We need to have, maybe, a woman to get us out of this mess,” Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana told NBC News. “The men screw it up so much.”