When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his resignation, attention quickly turned to his successor. At least at first, there didn’t appear to be much in the way of drama: GOP leaders and the party’s mainstream quickly rallied behind House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and the fight appeared to be over before it started.
But two weeks later, when McCarthy withdrew from consideration, the chamber grew chaotic and there was some unexpected chatter about a provocative idea: a “coalition-style” Speaker of the House.
The underlying problem plaguing the chamber is that Republicans, at least for now, can’t seem to elect their own leader. There are 247 House GOP lawmakers, and 218 are needed to elevate the next Speaker, but there are enough right-wing Republicans to stand in mainstream candidates’ way.
And this has led to scuttlebutt about less-conservative Republicans turning to Democrats to pursue a bipartisan course. The underlying point is simple enough: if the GOP’s more mainstream wing can’t get the votes from their own party, they’ll turn to Democrats – disempowering the House Freedom Caucus in the process.
Democratic leaders have reportedly been cool to the idea – Republicans created this mess, so it’s up to them to clean it up – though Nancy Pelosi struck a different note over the weekend.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled Saturday there could be “an openness” among at least some House Democrats to voting for a Republican speaker on the floor — and she suggested the GOP turmoil could help put Democrats back in charge come 2017.“I think in our caucus there is interest and support. There’s an openness to a bipartisan approach to this,” Pelosi said in an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival.
I’m skeptical about whether this could ever come together, but the idea is slowly making the transition from academic exercise to real-world strategy.
Indeed, the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel noted over the weekend that some more moderate members – including Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), arguably the most enthusiastic proponent of the idea – “have been making calls” to members about a possible Coalition Speaker.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) added on Friday that if Paul Ryan definitely rules out a bid for Speaker, “we would have to consider having a coalition Speaker.”
The phrase “easier said than done” keeps coming to mind.
I’m not saying the idea itself is ridiculous, or even necessarily offensive, so much as it’s unrealistic. There are currently 188 House Democrats, and not one of them has ever cast a vote for a GOP leader. Indeed, in recent generations, this has generally been the ultimate test of partisan loyalty – even if you don’t intend to vote with your party at any time during a given Congress, there’s an expectation that members won’t vote for the other team’s candidate for Speaker.
Is there a Republican who would get 188 Democratic votes? Is there a Republican who would want them?
Even if that GOP lawmaker received 188 Democratic votes, would he or she also be able to find 30 Republicans ready to partner with Dems to elect a moderate GOP Speaker?
Would that tear congressional Republicans apart?
I’m not saying a bipartisan Speaker is literally impossible, but the practical considerations are significant. It’s a dynamic worth watching, but proponents of the idea probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.