With the surprising announcement that Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) would be dropping out of the race to replace John Boehner for U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, the question of who will take over the coveted position is up in the air. McCarthy was widely expected to win the support necessary to assume the speakership. However, a public gaffe in which he implied that the House Benghazi Commission was formed merely to politically hurt Hillary Clinton combined with the roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus declaring they would back Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) to undermine his candidacy. Without at least some of the members of the Freedom Caucus, McCarthy would have to win the position with the support of Democratic representatives which would prove politically difficult for many of his Republican supporters as well as his policy goals.
With McCarthy’s downfall as a viable candidate, Speaker Boehner has announced he will stay on in the position until a new speaker can be found. In addition to Webster, Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has declared his intention to seek the speakership. Rep. Jeb Hensalring (R-TX), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) have all been linked to rumors in conservative rings that they could seek the speakership as well. While the Republican Party lingers in chaos, the deadline to raise the debt ceiling, or risk a government, default looms with the Treasury Department estimating the limit will be hit around November 5th. Beyond that deadline, December 11th also marks the date for another government shutdown. In the meantime Democratic leaders have issued stinging statements about the stability of the Republican Party and Wall Street has expressed fear that leadership instability could impact the economy, especially as the debt ceiling deadline approaches.
These concerns combined with the political gridlock within the divided Republican Party are raising questions about how to resolve the situation. There is heavy pressure on Ways and Means Chairman, and former vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan to seek the speakership despite his insistence that he does not want the job. Speaker Boehner has reportedly had two long phone conversations with the Wisconsin Republican about reconsidering and many believe Ryan to be the only representative capable of uniting the divided party. Ryan has long insisted he does not want the job and many speculate it is because Speaker of the House is historically a political dead-end, with a single former speaker, James K. Polk, rising to the presidency in American history.
Another outside the box solution is to think outside of Congress entirely. Article One, section two, clause five of the U.S. Constitution states that “the House of Representatives shall [choose] their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” By this language it is widely accepted that the Constitution does not mandate that the Speaker be chosen from the House of Representatives. The fact that every speaker in U.S. history has been from the body of the House itself is tradition but not a Constitutional mandate.
With the House gridlocked, a potential solution is for the House to buy itself time and delay the politically tricky selection until after the coming debt ceiling and government shutdown deadlines have passed. Republicans could come together to select a relatively neutral conservative name outside of the House or totally neutral candidate could be selected from the House as a whole, including Republicans and Democrats. Big name Republicans that could come from outside the political sphere and command instant respect in an interim capacity include names like former speaker Newt Gingrich, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, or even former president George W. Bush. For a neutral candidate, three former Supreme Court justices are currently retired, though age is a major question as John Paul Stevens in 95, Sandra Day O’Connor in 85, and David Souter is 76. Other prospective candidates could include names like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York or multi-billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who have both advocated for better financial responsibility and the need for the government to not default on its debt.
These are simply the big names and there are plenty of lesser known arbiters, judges, former lawmakers, and scholars who could assume the position at the request of Congress, for a temporary time, in a limited capacity. It is highly unlikely the House foregoes electing one of its own but with much at stake, and with a limited amount of time with which to work, and outside the box solution is worth considering.