The House Speakership Disaster

Get it together, guys: since Boehner's resignation, Republicans are having a tough time

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other members of Congress listens as US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 28, 2014 at the US Capitol in Washington. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other members of Congress listens as US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 28, 2014 at the US Capitol in Washington. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The Republican Party’s search for a new House Speaker following the announcement by John Boehner that he would retire at the end of October has been an unmitigated disaster.

It didn’t look that way at first. When Mr. Boehner announced his retirement – earlier than many expected – the heir apparent was current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. For two weeks after Mr. Boehner’s announcement, everything seemed fine: Mr. McCarthy would move up to become House Speaker, and House conservatives would continue to be angry and complain about being ignored by leadership.

But suddenly, on October 8, Mr. McCarthy stunned Washington–announcing, during a closed-door meeting, he would not seek the nomination. Sources close to Mr. McCarthy said there wasn’t a path forward for him to get the 218 votes necessary to clench the speakership.

Complicating Mr. McCarthy’s bid were his comments about the House Benghazi committee. The California congressman told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the Benghazi committee helped drop Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. This led to the media taking his comments to mean the committee was designed not to determine what, if any, mistakes were made in 2012 when four U.S. citizens – including an ambassador – were killed in Benghazi, Libya, but rather to damage Ms. Clinton’s reputation.

Mr. McCarthy’s bid was also offset in part by Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, who was nominated for the speakership by the House Freedom Caucus, an influential group of House conservatives who had been opposed to Mr. Boehner and House leadership for years. Mr. Webster gained 12 votes against Mr. Boehner during the election for speaker earlier this year, but failed to oust him.

The group also fumbled in coalescing around a new candidate until last week, and it seems unlikely that Mr. Webster will have a fighting chance of securing the position, which would make him the second in line for the presidency behind Vice President Joe Biden.

Since Mr. McCarthy’s departure from the race, the House has been thrown into chaos. The top contender is now congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who seems disinterested in and uncommitted to seeking the position. Mr. Ryan is already under attack as “less-than-conservative” by the House’s right wing.

Personally, of all the names floating around (we’ll get to that), I believe Mr. Ryan is best for the job. However, I have a problem with his tax policy. For years, Mr. Ryan has been the wonky guy with the big ideas who should get the American people on board with Republican thinking.

But in budget after budget, Mr. Ryan has failed to outline a detailed tax policy proposal. In fact, the tax portion of his budgets is one of the least detailed sections. Yet we’ve heard him again and again explain how the GOP would fix the tax code.

Where is the bill, Mr. Ryan? I moved to D.C. in 2011–I’m sure he’s been laying out his vision for tax reform long before then–and in the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve seen no movement on this plan that would supposedly lower taxes for everyone and simplify the tax code.

Minor tangent. Back to the speakership race.

With Mr. Ryan waffling on his desire to be the next House speaker, multiple other names have been floated. Cathy McMorris Rodgers? Not interested. Lynn Wesmoreland? Only if Mr. Ryan doesn’t run. Peter Roskam? Who?

The only other declared candidate is Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has been a congressman since 2009. Reps. Bill Flores, Pete Sessions and Ryan Zinke have all expressed interest in running for the position as well.

As if the term House Speaker wasn’t messy enough, the man who survived the previous speakership debacle, Dennis Hastert, entered a plea agreement for charges that he lied to federal investigators about paying millions in hush money for alleged sexual abuse from his days as a wrestling coach in Illinois.

Oh yes, that’s right, this isn’t the first time Republicans have mucked up a House Speaker election. In 1998, following Speaker Newt Gingrich’s* announced resignation due to losing seats in the midterm, the heir apparent also dropped out. Congressman Bob Livingston was Mr. Gingrich’s designated successor, but after disclosing an extramarital affair, he decided to resign from congress and not claim the speakership.

Enter Dennis Hastert. Granted, he didn’t have the tough road to the top position in the House that Mr. Ryan/Chaffetz/Flores/Sessions/Zinke/Who knows has, but it was turbulent at the time.

Meanwhile, Democrats consider their lock-step agreement on nearly every issue.

But seriously, House Republicans, get it together.

*Some have even floated Mr. Gingrich as a possible contender to become House Speaker again, although he says that would be “very, very hard” to do.

The House Speakership Disaster