Who Is Running For Speaker Of The House?

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s surprising withdrawal from the race for speaker of the House, a race he seemed sure to win, has thrown the election into chaos and opened the door for just about any notable GOP figure to make a play for speaker.

Currently, only two GOP members are officially running to replace Speaker John Boehner, but many more are considering a run or being pushed by others to do so. The competition could grow far larger by next week, when the House returns from a weeklong recess.

Here are the House GOP candidates who have declared, have suggested they may run, or who are at least being urged to run by others:

1. Daniel Webster (10th District, Florida)

As recently as Sunday, Politico was describing Webster as only a “nominal” challenger to McCarthy, incapable of playing a significant role in the election. Five days later, though, it seems Webster’s upstart candidacy may have played a critical role in McCarthy’s departure.

He received the endorsement of the conservative 40-member House Freedom Caucus less than a day before McCarthy withdrew. The endorsement showed McCarthy was in danger of losing the vote, and may have motivated his decision to quit.

If Webster is elected, it would complete a stunningly rapid rise to the top, as he was only elected to the House in 2010, after knocking off GOP nemesis Alan Grayson. But while he’s been endorsed by the more conservative members, Webster has limited appeal to the rest of the GOP caucus.

His most notable House accomplishment is that he joined the effort to unseat Boehner at the start of 2015.

Webster also has another peculiar weakness: A Florida court ruling that found his 10th District to be excessively gerrymandered could force it to be redrawn to be substantially more Democratic. Republicans are unlikely to want a leader who has a decent risk of being thrown from office every election cycle.

2. Jason Chaffetz (3rd District, Utah)

Chaffetz, first elected in 2008, is the chairman of the formidable House Oversight Committee, and is the second official candidate. He entered the race just a few days before McCarthy’s departure. Chaffetz has pitched himself as a compromise candidate able to straddle the gap between the party’s moderate and more conservative wings.

Chaffetz has already said he doesn’t regard himself as the best candidate, and his initial announcement generated very little support. Still, as one of just two people actually running, he has to be considered a possibility, especially since he has more appeal to moderates than Webster.

3. Paul Ryan (1st District, Wisconsin)

Paul Ryan presents a peculiar case. A legion of top Republicans want him to be speaker. Boehner is lobbying him to make a run. Majority whip Steve Scalise wants him to run. Chaffetz says he would drop out if Ryan ran. Other prospective candidates say they’ll only run if Ryan doesn’t. At this point he’s the closest thing to a consensus candidate that exists.

Ryan has many appealing characteristics for the GOP. Despite being in Congress for over 15 years, he’s still relatively young at 45. He’s considered a top source of policy ideas for the party and isn’t considered too moderate, but he also hasn’t joined the various conservative insurgencies of the last few years.

The only problem? Ryan himself doesn’t want the job. He’s consistently said he’s happy with his role as a GOP idea man, influencing party priorities on the budget, Medicare, and other topics without having to endure bruising political battles. On Thursday, Ryan reiterated that he doesn’t want to be speaker, but the lobbying has been intense.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Ryan is just being humble. While he declined to run in 2016, Ryan may still harbor presidential ambitions. Being speaker would entail making compromises, cutting deals, and trying to bind together feuding GOP factions.

While Ryan might provide a great service to the GOP by stepping up to the plate, it’s not a pathway to being popular, as has already been proven by Boehner and defeated ex-majority leader Eric Cantor. Already, conservative forces are moving to attack Ryan as insufficiently conservative, citing votes such as his endorsement of the 2008 bank bailouts.

Despite having the job virtually thrown at him, Ryan may simply know a bad deal when he sees one.

4. Darrell Issa (49th District, California)

Issa hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, but he said Friday morning he’s considering it. Issa has a long history in Congress, as he’s currently on his 8th term, and he attracted substantial attention during his leadership of the House Oversight Committee from 2011 through 2014.

Like other possible leaders, though, Issa has his weaknesses. He’s been loyal to Boehner and may be no better at satisfying conservatives than McCarthy. Issa says that he’d back Paul Ryan if Ryan runs, so look for him to hold off and make sure his friend isn’t in the race before jumping in himself.

5. John Kline (2nd District, Minnesota)

Like several others, Kline has already endorsed Ryan should he run, but if Ryan backs out Kline could become an appealing option as a short-term speaker — an idea that’s been proposed by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price.

Kline, chairman of the education committee and a close friend of Boehner, has already announced that he’s retiring after the 2016 election. This makes Kline an ideal choice for an interim role, shepherding the party’s fractious caucus up through the next election before yielding the position to whoever triumphs in the GOP’s ideological clash following the 2016 eleciton.

6. Lynn Westmoreland (3rd District, Georgia)

Westmoreland said Thursday, just after McCarthy’s departure, that he’s looking at a possible run and will make a final decision by Monday. Like the two contenders above, Westmoreland has endorsed Ryan and will only run if he doesn’t.

Westmoreland worked as vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) from 2009-2013, meaning he can claim a role in the huge Republican victory of 2010 that carried the party into the majority. On the other hand, he has an awkward history of defending the Confederate flag and forgetting what the Ten Commandments are.

7. Jeb Hensarling (5th District, Texas)

Hensarling, head of the important House Financial Services Committee, is popular with the 25-member Republican delegation from Texas and has a voting record that could win over unhappy conservatives. He’s also distinguished himself to many conservatives with his tough fight against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, though he suffered a defeat on that front Friday that could dampen his appeal.

He’s been discussed as a potential candidate, but hasn’t indicated he’s running.

8. Tom Cole (4th District, Oklahoma)

Cole chaired the NRCC from 2006 to 2008 and is something of an elder statesman for the GOP, whom Rep. Peter King suggested could be a calming influence for the party. Cole is hindered, though, by a moderate record (the King endorsement says it all), and by the fact that his stint leading the NRCC saw huge losses for the party.

9. Trey Gowdy (4th District, South Carolina)

Gowdy, a former prosecutor, has risen to prominence for his aggressive pursuit of the Benghazi investigation, and a handful of members have said publicly he should make a play for speaker. But he’s still an extreme longshot for the time being, partly because he’s shown no interest in actually running.

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