Plans for a televised Fox News forum with three contenders for House Speaker fell apart soon after they were announced.
Host Bret Baier was slated to have House Majority Leader Scalise (R-La.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) for a Monday event that Fox News billed as a “joint interview” rather than a debate.
But the unusual move — nationalizing an internal GOP conference decision — prompted backlash from GOP members, and changes to the plans
A spokesperson for Jordan first said he wanted to adjust the schedule so that the candidates talk to the GOP conference first. The conference is scheduled to host a closed-door forum Tuesday.
“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 spokesperson for the Ohio lawmaker said in a statement first shared with CNN.
Then, Hern publicly pulled out.
“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 wrote on X, formerly Twitter, hours after the event was announced. “We need to make this decision as a conference, not on TV. The Republican conference needs a family discussion.”
Scalise then also decided to not participate in the scheduled debate, a source confirmed.
Another source familiar with the plans then said the debate was off.
Later Friday, Baier explained on air how plans for the forum were initially made and then called off.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 with members of the Second Amendment Caucus to discuss protecting second amendment rights. (Greg Nash)
Baier said all three GOPers had agreed to appear on Fox News together on Monday and the network “agreed to hold back” on any announcement of the event, because Hern had not officially declared he would seek the Speaker’s gavel but planned to do so “before the close of business” on Friday.
“This morning there was some kind of leak on Capitol Hill,” Baier said. “We obviously work with a number of staffs on how the logistics were going to work and somehow somewhere it leaked on Capitol Hill with some bizarre reporting that I was going to be moderating a debate privately.”
That was never the plan, Baier said.
“And then there became pressure from other members on these three to not do that before they talked to other members,” the anchor said. “They had all agreed, the pressure built. And that’s what happened.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) praised the decision to call off the debate.
“A televised debate between our Republican candidates for Speaker of the House is very unproductive,” Gimenez posted on X. “Glad to hear that both candidates have agreed to hold off on a TV debate & chose to address Republican Members directly instead.”
But others thought it could have been a good idea, breaking with their GOP colleagues.
“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 (R-Ind.), who endorsed Jordan, posted on X.
Scalise and Jordan — the latter of whom former President Trump endorsed for Speaker overnight Friday — have both officially announced their candidacies. Hern, who leads the largest conservative caucus in the House, is considering a formal bid but has not yet launched one, aiming to contact every member of the House Republican Conference before announcing his decision.
House Republicans are scheduled to have a closed-door candidate forum Tuesday, and then vote internally on a nominee Wednesday. That nominee will go up against House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on the House floor, where they will need to secure a majority of members present and voting for a candidate in order to secure the gavel — which could be a tough task in the slim GOP majority.
Baier hosts “Special Report” on Fox News, the network’s 6 p.m. hourlong show. He was one of the moderators of the first Republican presidential debate in August.
Updated at 4:25 p.m.