House Republicans were supposed to announce their pick to be Speaker John Boehner’s replacement on Thursday afternoon, but now the election has been postponed. Why?
Because House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who many assumed would likely win — suddenly decided to drop out of the running.
House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz and Representative Daniel Webster, a conservative who earned the endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus — which has more than 40 members — were also running for the position. Even now that McCarthy is out of the picture, it seems unlikely that either of them will be the next Speaker.
McCarthy has received a lot of bad press this past week because of his comments on the Benghazi committee, and it was obvious that if the California representative had become House Speaker, he would have had perhaps an even harder time dealing with House Republicans than Boehner ever did. Becoming an ineffective and hated leader was probably not his dream job. And if McCarthy had been unable to even get the requisite 218 votes — a scenario that seemed increasingly likely — that would have made things even worse.
“I think it’s best to have a new face,” he told reporters this afternoon. McCarthy, who plans to remain majority leader, also acknowledged that he had caused a major congressional plot twist: "I think I shocked some of you, huh?"
Boehner, who only found out that McCarthy was dropping out moments before he announced, is prepared to stick around as long as necessary. However, that doesn’t mean he has to like it — and it doesn’t mean he has any desire to talk about the Republican Party’s woes, either. He was scheduled to appear on Jimmy Fallon tonight — an appearance that was canceled after McCarthy’s announcement.
Whenever the election happens, Republicans might need help from Democrats to pick a Speaker if the party can’t come together and decide on one nominee — which means that a moderate candidate still might win, even though conservatives are greeting McCarthy’s announcement as a sign that they are about to be in charge.
"Oh my gosh, we’re winning," Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, told Politico. "This is excellent!"
Other members of Congress, apparently thinking that the chaos wasn’t theatrical enough, responded even more dramatically.
Since the race seems completely up in the air at this point, nomination ideas have been flying on Twitter. Because the House Speaker doesn’t technically have to be an elected official, people have offered lots of more imaginative alternatives. Some wondered what Eric Cantor — the last House majority leader everyone thought would be the next Speaker — might be thinking right now.
Representative Paul Ryan wants everyone to know that he still doesn’t want this sucky job. However, Boehner has reportedly been talking to him this afternoon, begging Ryan to take his job and let him go home. Ryan has reportedly canceled the rest of his fund-raisers this week, either because he is thinking very deeply about his future, or because he doesn’t want anyone asking him questions about his future. It seems like the latter might be true — even after all the begging from Boehner, Ryan’s office is still telling everyone the answer is ’thanks but no thanks.’
Representative Trey Gowdy — chair of the Select Committee on Benghazi — has had his name whispered during the past few weeks, too, but he also has no interest in having to run his party. According to Roll Call’s summary of the mayhem, "Gowdy was seen stomping into an elevator and uttered an emphatic, ‘No!’ when asked if he would run for speaker."
The South Carolina representative voiced his thoughts on how thankless he thought the House Speaker position was earlier this week. “Whichever candidate I am maddest at when it’s time to vote will be the one I vote for,” Gowdy told the New York Times. “Because it is a nearly impossible job.”
Representative Don Young, based on an impromptu appearance on CNN this afternoon, doesn’t care to speak to anyone about who the next Speaker will be and just wants to be able to walk through the Capitol hallways in peace.
There are plenty of qualified people that don’t want the job, and a whole bunch of representatives who have one or two people in their fan club — which does not add up to 218, the number of votes needed to win the position. In other words, things look pretty messy for the GOP, and it is unclear who the next Speaker will be.
A few representatives have come up with experimental solutions to this seemingly intractable problem — like choosing an interim speaker who has no plans to stay in the position past the 2016 elections, either because they are retiring or just because they realize they’ll probably be fed up with the job by then.
If Republicans can’t find anyone, Newt Gingrich would be happy to take his old job back. “This is why George Washington came out of retirement — because there are moments you can’t avoid,” he told Sean Hannity, according to The Hill.
Much of the debate over who will replace Boehner will have to wait until later in the month — Congress is scheduled to be on recess next week.
Meanwhile, House Democrats had a hard time containing their glee.
When asked about the upheaval at the White House today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “It certainly is easy to poke fun at the chaos." However, the Obama administration and other elected officials are also getting worried about the debt limit, which needs to be raised by early November. "Responsible Republican leaders should bring a clean debt ceiling increase to the floors of the House and Senate immediately and let it pass with a bipartisan coalition, as it certainly would," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement this afternoon. "Republican chaos is likely to get worse before it gets better but the economic livelihood of the American people should not be threatened as a result of Republicans’ inability to govern.”
Wall Street is also freaking out a little about the debt limit — and how the House GOP fight could mess things up. A policy analyst for investment bankers told Politico, “We will not mince words — this is the political equivalent of a dumpster fire."
And — in case there were any members of Congress out there who still thought it might be fun to be House Speaker — the legislative problems don’t end with the debt limit. Congress will only be in session 26 days before the current federal budget expires and the government faces another potential shutdown. And then 2016 is here, bringing with it all the fun that comes with being a legislator during an election year, when compromise often becomes impossible as both parties try to impress voters — or at least prove that they are better than the opposition.
Whoever decides to take one for the team and become House Speaker, they are sure to have quite an impossible and stress-inducing year.
This post has been updated throughout.