In the aftermath of House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement that he will resign from the position, as well as his house seat, at the end of October, a wave of speculation exists surrounding his potential successor and the rightward shift in the house that they are almost sure to bring. Given that Boehner’s resignation was precipitated by “extreme pressure from the right wing of his party,” especially over conservatives’ moves to shut the government down over Planned Parenthood funding, it is almost certain that the new Speaker of the House will be even more stubborn, intractable, and uncompromising than was Boehner.
The potential to increase their power in the wake of the resignation has left Republican House members foaming at the mouth like a pack of wolves circling the carcass of good government. A list of potential Boehner replacements almost as long as the menu of Republican presidential candidates has emerged, but among the top contenders are Representatives Paul Ryan (WI), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Jeb Hensarling (TX), Tom Price (GA), and Kevin McCarthy (CA). All of these representatives have recently been reaching out to their fellow House members seeking support for a speakership bid in the event of Boehner’s ouster, although of course they are all quick to deny such reports and announce their support for Boehner.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader since Eric Cantor’s primary defeat last year, has emerged as the frontrunner in the campaign to replace Boehner. Despite his status as a relative “moderate”, he has recently attracted increased support from more conservative representatives and there had been talk in recent weeks of a deal being hashed out in which the right-wingers would support McCarthy as the next Speaker in exchange for more moderate members’ supporting Boehner’s ouster. Much like Boehner before him, McCarthy has frequently been characterized as bland, colorless, and uninspiring. While his policy positions are not extreme, Daniel Horowitz’s description of his policy and personality as “soggy white bread” seems pretty apt. And, moreover, if he moves to become Speaker with right-wing backing, that soggy white bread will undoubtedly become even less appetizing.
Currently in second place in the informal race to replace Boehner is Paul Ryan, the 2012 Vice Presidential candidate and former Budget Committee chairman who is among the country’s most widely known Republican House members. Like McCarthy, the former Tea Partier Ryan has attracted criticism from the far right for being insufficiently conservative, in spite of all the evidence of his voting record. He has been staunchly anti-civil rights and anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-environment, anti-healthcare, anti-public education, anti-immigrant, anti-sentencing reform, anti-welfare and pro-tax breaks. All of these positions he has taken with the characteristic self-righteousness and intractability of modern Republicans. If Tea Partiers think Ryan isn’t sufficiently conservative, let’s just be glad at their increasing irrelevance and hope that Ryan doesn’t finagle his way into the Speakership.
Even more unabashedly right-wing than Ryan is Cathy McMorris Rodgers; the representative from Washington’s conservative interior has supported the dismantling of medicare, medicaid, and social security, and voted to severely curb the power of labor unions, drastically cut SNAP benefits that provide food to children and the disabled. She has come out strongly against the Violence Against Women Act and opposed efforts to ensure equal pay for women while opposing access to contraceptives. Rodgers is, in short, an extreme conservative nut whose Speakership would undoubtedly be a disaster.
Next on the list of ridiculous Speaker-hopefuls is Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who has been a staunch supporter of gun proliferation, the militarization of the border with Mexico, and the idea that life begins at conception. He has been one of the leaders behind the House’s interminable efforts to repeal Obamacare and has sought to extend tax breaks for the wealthy while curbing welfare programs for the needy. He has been characterized as “lying, stupid, and insane,” a charge we can hardly refute.
Then there’s Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who gained notoriety for his stubborn anti-immigration and anti-climate change policies, his refusal to make Martin Luther King Day a holiday in his state, and was discovered to have given speeches to white supremacy groups.
Finally there is Tom Price, a Georgia representative with Tea Party leaning whose policies barely warrant mentioning because they fall nearly perfectly in line with the extremist positions of the other conservative fools lining up to be the primary obstacle to governing in the coming months and years. Price has attracted significant support from grassroots conservatives as a purported champion of the common man in spite of his own enormous fortune. His decision last year to remain in the House rather than seek Georgia’s then-vacant Senate seat has led many to believe that he seeks further advancement to consolidate his power in the House, and Boehner’s ouster could be just the chance he has been looking for. For the sake of the country, however, we certainly hope that whoever ends up in the Speakership can at least make an effort to compromise and govern rather than grandstand with their rigidly intolerant conservative beliefs, as Republican House members have recently been so wont to do.