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WASHINGTON, D.C. – They say it is one of the most secretive places in the United States. Some officials have described it as the Area 51 or Fort Knox of the Eastern Seaboard, “with more rules and somehow less decorum,” one said under the condition of anonymity. In recent years, it has become a cause of great intrigue as the source of many of the nation’s governmental decisions.

No, it is not the Bohemian Grove. It is the chamber of the House Republican Conference.

Since early October, members of the Republican Conference have been meeting frequently for closed-door meetings to discuss who they will elect as the 56th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives after eight members of their own party voted to remove Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California from his position less than nine months after his election.

While the results of these meetings are brought into the public view—such as the initial decision for Rep. Steve Scalise to run for the Speaker role and later the removal of Rep. Jim Jordan as the conference’s nominee—little is known about the process that led to these outcomes. Reporting has noted anonymous voting, candidate forums, and bouts of yelling usually directed at the group of representatives that voted to oust Rep. McCarthy from Speakership in the first place—now known as the “Matt Gaetz Eight” after Rep. Matt Gaetz made a motion for McCarthy to “vacate the chair.”

But although the House of Representatives is known colloquially as the “People’s House,” the American people have been largely left in the dark about how the person second in line to the presidency is selected.

Until now.

Several sources—many of whom wish to remain anonymous—have come forward to detail the inner workings of the Republican Conference during the “October surprise” of a Speaker’s race. They describe a series of rituals which are both shocking and yet, in the current political climate in which, as one anonymous representative said “both bluster and buffoonery reign supreme,” not surprising.

“It is akin to a circus in there,” Rep. George Santos said. “They have a hot dog eating contest, they base their picks on darts and hobby horse races and random competitions. It was like that episode of Succession where they play ‘Boar on the Floor.’ It’s so demeaning to this office. One time they did freestyle raps. It was the worst thing I have ever endured, and I survived Hurricane Katrina and Pearl Harbor.”  (Editor’s note: Rep. Santos was not in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina nor was he born when Pearl Harbor occurred).

One of Santos’ colleagues, Rep. Williams, said that Santos’ allegations were not true, and that “like much of what he says, it can’t be believed.”

“Remember, he’s been charged with fraud, conspiracy, and giving false statements,” Williams added. When asked why Santos had not been asked to step down by his colleagues, Williams replied, “No comment.”

However, anonymous sources have corroborated Santos’ story.

“A broken clock is right twice a day,” one said of Santos.

According to sources, much of the volleying for Speaker has taken place in the context of a “competition.” Each representative vying for the role has to engage in a series of contests, which have included everything from races to name the most countries in a minute to an hour-long jump rope battle to prove endurance.

“Have you ever seen those Mr. High School pageants where boys pretend they’re Miss America and have to answer silly questions and show off mediocre talents?” one source said. “That was the inspiration for our Speaker’s race. I’m not joking. That is literally where they took the idea from.”

When Rep. Scalise faced off against Rep. Jordan in the first week of the race, anonymous members shared that a panel of Republican leadership, including Rep. McCarthy, decided the men would have to participate in seven rounds of competition. They started off relatively normal, with the first round an introductory speech that laid out their plans for the speakership.

The rules? Factoids and ideas had to be laid out in 10-second digestible snippets.

The rounds quickly devolved from there as the candidates had to then fashion their best Uncle Sam costume. As a nod to the former president, Rep. Jordan eschewed the rules and instead of Uncle Sam dressed Donald Trump. According to sources, he was met with a raucous round of applause and won the round handily despite ignoring the rules.

For the final round, Rep. Scalise and Rep. Jordan each had to perform a talent that, according to rules governing the competition, had to display their skill as well as their patriotism. Rep. Jordan recited the entirety of the Constitution in reverse, paired with commentary on how the country has strayed from the ideals.

“I agreed with Jim that we definitely have moved away from the framers’ vision, but I think the fact that he was making the argument in the context of an over-the-top Speaker of the House competition lacked self-awareness. I don’t think the framers envisioned this as the appointment process for a Constitutional office,” a source said.

Rep. Scalise performed a jazz rendition of “God Bless America,” in tribute to the country and his home state of Louisiana—the birthplace of the music genre. Some members were moved even to tears, sources said, while others found the competition as a whole hard to swallow.

“He [Scalise] actually had better pipes than I thought he would, much more soulful, but I still don’t understand how that relates to governing or leadership,” an anonymous member said.

Following the end of the competition’s seventh round, the Republicans moved to an anonymous vote. This was taken by secret ballot, recorded and shared in the style of the hit reality TV show Survivor. Representatives scrawled their Speaker pics on pieces of parchment which were then placed into a jar and drawn out by Greg Probst, estranged brother of Survivor host Jeff Probst. The secret process was necessary, so that members wouldn’t feel pressured to vote for the more bombastic representatives, and do so with fear of less backlash.

“Whether or not the tiki torches were necessary, though, is another question,” one source said.

Following the voting and reveal by Probst, Rep. Scalise came out on top.

Members said the song clinched it for him, albeit by a narrow margin.

Unfortunately, the result of the competition did not result in a speaker. After finding he did not have the votes within his own party to secure the Speakership, Rep. Scalise dropped out of the race before the vote made it to the floor. Another iteration of the competition commenced with Rep. Jordan facing off against Rep. Austin Scott. Once again, a win behind closed doors did not manifest a true victory. Rep. Jordan failed to get the needed votes on three separate ballots and after another anonymous Survivor-style vote, was asked to leave the race.

Republicans had hoped that they would find success in a field of seven candidates, but as the competition held its next rounds and the House entered its third week without a Speaker, the conference experienced its biggest embarrassment to date when Rep. Tom Emmer won the nomination and stepped down from it in a matter of a few hours.

Finally, on October 25, the conference voted a new Speaker into power, Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson, who was little known outside of the House prior to his election. Some members said his election came down to the fact that he was the nominee with fewest enemies rather than the most qualifications, as he joined the House in 2017, and had not served in leadership positions on committees prior to this. Others said it was the result of a conference that was worn down and just looking for the path of least resistance after being hit with roadblock after roadblock.

The Republicans hailed it as a victory.

The Matt Gaetz Eight, which set the chaos into motion, counted it as a win for themselves too, as they believed Johnson moved the needle further to the right in the House’s balance of power. Others in the party signaled that Speaker Johnson’s calm demeanor would help lead to progress rather than regression.

“Well just have to wait and see,” one said.

While the race is now in the rear view mirror, several Republican members have begun to raise questions about whether their so-called “Next American Patriot” competition worked.

The member continued, “We were just wasting time on stupidity, while there were real issues we needed to address. I stood up and said that, and I was shot down. They said this was the only way we could get the best candidate, and that was the moment I really questioned what we were doing as a party. Well, actually, that also happened during the rap portion of the competition, but that was what really sold it.”

One member decried the process as insanity.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and that is exactly what we did for weeks. I asked if we could nominate Rep. McHenry as a temporary speaker, just so we could get work done, and I was seen as derailing the process. As the problem.”

The “madness” has led some members to consider the future of their party, with some ideas that once seemed like long shots now feeling more plausible if Republicans cannot work together as a conference.“I hate to say it but we might have to—“ the source paused to gag, “work with Democrats.”

Some have posited disbanding to form their own party, where competitions will not be a means of determining entry or leadership positions. Some members have voiced regret at how the competition ended, stating they have lost all hope their conference has the ability to unite around a candidate without feeling like their hands are tied in the process.

“For a race that was so drawn out, in terms of Speaker election, everything was so rushed at the end. It was like we had to get on board or get out. We didn’t know a lot. Let’s just say, my constituents have learned more about Speaker Johnson than I knew when I voted. We just wanted it done,” one representative said.

Another agreed, adding, “At this point, I’m starting to think that Greg Probst would’ve been the best candidate for Speaker that we could’ve gotten. He did get 37 votes, which unfortunately was more than most people could muster.”

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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