Boehner resignation sets off a race for power

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There’s another Republican race under way and it has nothing to do with the presidency, although it will have plenty of impact on federal policymaking.

John Boehner’s abrupt retirement as speaker of the House of Representatives, announced last week, means the GOP will soon select a new leader in the Capitol’s lower chamber.

There are at least 246 potential Republican replacements for Boehner, who began serving Ohio’s eighth congressional district in 1991 and succeeded California’s Nancy Pelosi as speaker in 2011 after his party took control of the chamber in the 2010 elections.

Whittling down this list can’t be accomplished without measuring the representatives in terms of sheer power, yet there is only one member of the GOP House leadership who is openly vying for the speaker’s job.

Three out of the top four in the GOP ranks have gone on record saying they will not pursue the speaker’s position. California’s Kevin McCarthy, currently in the second-ranking GOP House job as majority leader, has said he wants the post and appears to be the frontrunner.

If McCarthy is voted in by his peers, he will continue the Republican pattern of leadership transition, with the second-in-command ascending to the top job when it is vacated. There is, however, a loud and boisterous wing of the Republican Party that has shown a tendency to zig when the leadership tells members to zag.

This field of would-be speakers is more conservative than those who currently occupy leadership posts:

1. Florida’s Dan Webster said Monday he’s “running hard” to replace Boehner.  Webster, a strong conservative, challenged Boehner earlier this year for the position. He received just 12 votes but has shown no signs of backing down.

Webster said Monday he believes that Republicans deserve a “better legislative process” and described Congress as “woefully broken,” according to several news reports.

“In order for the Republican Party to be successful we must make decisions based upon principle, not power,” he told reporters.

Webster put another shot across the bow of party leaders when he stressed that policy “should be created based upon the merits of the idea, not on the position or seniority of the member who sponsored it.”

2. Michigan’s Justin Amash, who has been a vocal critic of Boehner, is not ruling out a run for speaker.

3. Ohio’s Jim Jordan, another Boehner critic, is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, which promotes principled conservative viewpoints. He said in March he would not challenge Boehner, but pundits say he could be “drafted” in the race to succeed his colleague from the Buckeye State. Jordan’s sway over the Freedom Caucus, which has about 40 members, gives him some influence in determining who the next leadership lineup.

History favors the insiders

Before his election to the post in 2011, Speaker Boehner had served in another series of leadership roles, first as minority leader, the top job in the party out of power, and then as majority leader following the GOP’s 2006 House takeover.

The track record for previous Republican speakers is similar, as those occupying lower-ranking leadership positions traditionally move up if they don’t move out.

Dennis Hastert of Illinois became speaker in 1999 after serving as the GOP’s chief deputy majority whip. He is known as “the accidental speaker” since he landed in the job only after Bob Livingston of Louisiana, the choice of Republican members, former House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Louisiana, then the Appropriations Committee chairman, backed away amid a scandal over an extramarital affair.

Prior to Hastert,  Georgia’s Newt Gingrich held the gavel. Gingrich, who ascended to the role in 1995, had spent the previous six years serving as minority whip, the second-ranking position in the party out of power in the House.

McCarthy, 50, is the most discussed candidate for this important reason: he’s the second-ranking Republican in the House chamber. He became majority leader in June 2014 after Virginia’s Eric Cantor resigned following his primary election loss to Dave Brat, a college teacher who went on to win the seat in the general election. McCarthy was first elected in 2007.

On Sunday two Republican members, who also hold leadership posts, told Chris Wallace of Fox News that McCarthy will indeed win the top job.

“I don’t think there’s much doubt Kevin will be the next speaker of the House, and he should be,” said Oklahoma’s Tom Cole, a Boehner ally and another member of the GOP leadership team.

South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and a member of the Tea Party Caucus, who also has been an outspoken critic of Boehner, agreed that McCarthy was in line for the post.

“I think it’s fair to say that Kevin has the inside track for the position,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney’s Freedom Caucus is looking to form a block of at least 60 members who will back a chosen speaker candidate.

Republican leadership team

As of Monday, two of the three members currently in GOP leadership roles have confirmed they aim to fill McCarthy’s position should he become speaker.

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, currently the majority whip and is responsible for lining up votes on measures backed by party leaders, is out of the running for the top job, having announced earlier his intention to run for majority leader.

As the GOP’s current chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, Cathy McMorris Rodgers holds the fourth most powerful position in the party. There are reports in Seattle that suggest McMorris Rodgers, a Boehner supporter, is also seeking the majority leader position. 

Indiana’s Luke Messer, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, currently holds the party’s fifth most powerful position. Like Scalise and McMorris Rodgers, Messer has also ruled out a run for the speaker’s office. None of the three thus far have openly endorsed any candidate for speaker.

October and beyond

Boehner said Friday he would leave the House at the end of October. His stunning decision to give up the reins of power came amid a struggle between foes of funding for Planned Parenthood and those, like Boehner, who want to avoid a government shutdown by separating that issue from a budget resolution to maintain the status quo. Boehner’s move may have preempted a showdown over the issue.

It became clear on Monday that the speaker won’t allow a shutdown vote and will instead create a select committee to investigate allegations that the abortion provider profits from the sale of fetal organs.

Also noteworthy are reports that House Republicans have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday in which members will discuss selection of a new speaker.

The meeting was set up after Peter Roskam of Illinois said he had secured enough support to call for the caucus meeting.

“It’s clear our members believe that we need a plan, not a person, to heal the fractures within our majority,” Roskam said in a letter he sent to Republican colleagues Saturday.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected]