House GOP leadership

Get Ready for Speaker Paul Ryan

Congressman Paul Ryan speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore)

Congressman Paul Ryan speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore)

After weeks of speculation and uncertainty on Capitol Hill, the Republican House majority finally appears to have its next speaker in sight: Congressman Paul Ryan. 

Remember him? The conservative budget guru from Wisconsin who would have been vice president three years ago if Mitt Romney had won. He’s set to be selected for the position on Thursday, and now it looks like he has enough Republican votes to win the job.  
 
Ryan initially seemed disinterested in replacing Speaker John Boehner, who is retiring to avoid more infighting in his caucus and after he realized his dream of having a Pope address Congress.

Ryan's reluctance isn't surprising. Trying to run the House with his own troops in revolt is a tough job, especially for a guy who says he will only take the job if he still can go home to Janesville every weekend to be with his family.
 
Despite pressure from Boehner and Romney, Ryan said he was perfectly happy holding onto his dream job as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But that changed late last week after it became clear no one else had a remote chance of stitching together a majority of the Republican caucus.
 
Ryan became a household name after rising to the top of the House Budget Committee in 2007. Since then, he’s proposed several budget plans with bold social service cuts, such as replacing Medicare with a voucher system and repealing the Affordable Care Act. 
 
Two years ago, Ryan emerged as the key Republican negotiator in a budget deal co-authored by Democratic Senator Patty Murray. It was a rare example of bipartisanship in a time increasingly marred by political polarization.  
 
A famously devout fan of controversial novelist Ayn Rand and heavy metal bands, Ryan stands in sharp contrast to the man he’s poised to replace. And maybe that would be a good change for Congress, but don’t get your hopes up that Ryan’s latest rise in the ranks will do much to sew the Republican Party back together. 
 
With 247 members today, House Republicans hold their largest majority in decades, and Ryan’s ascent makes him the de facto leader of a splintered party conference, which includes the centrist Tuesday Group, the larger, very conservative Republican Study Committee and the radical, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus.
 
Ryan, a member of the Republican Study Committee, initially struggled to gain the approval of the Freedom Caucus, which consists of a few dozen representatives who have generally put in less time on Capitol Hill. Last week, about two-thirds of them came around, cautiously giving Ryan their blessing, but not promising to make his job any easier than Boehner’s.
 
Comprised of many members of the Tea Party movement, the Freedom Caucus refused to support any spending bill that did not strip all federal funding away from Planned Parenthood. In cases like that, the faction’s opposition can be just enough to bring the legislative process to a halt.  
 
Ryan's path appears to be easier than expected, thanks to Boehner, who managed to push through a debt ceiling and spending deal Wednesday. Congressional leaders struck the crucial two-year budget deal Monday night following negotiations with the Obama Administration.

Leaders hope to move the proposal along for a vote in the Senate, getting the dirty work out of the way just in time for Ryan’s entrance to the speakership. The deal has already met some resistance from Sen. Rand Paul, who vowed to filibuster the proposal.   
 
Chances are good the Freedom Caucus will remain a thorn in the side of any Speaker. Chances also are good that Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who is in charge of fundraising for House Republicans, will take on an expanded role since Ryan won't hit the road like Boehner did.

The challenge for Ryan will be to figure out clever ways to negotiate with the White House, a more stable GOP majority in the Senate and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pushing for more job security, Ryan hopes to change a rule that allows a single member of the House to move for a vote to remove the speaker. In Boehner’s time, the rule has posed a constant threat to his hold over the speakership. That may be the only way to neuter the Freedom Caucus enough to get on with the business of legislating.

Cantor Loss Could Lead to Walden Promotion

The upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday could be a boon for Oregon, as Congressman Greg Walden will seek to step up from his current GOP leadership post.

Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation, could be in the mix for a loftier leadership position after Cantor’s July resignation following his surprise defeat at the hands of a little-known economics professor backed by the Tea Party in this week's Virginia primary election. 

Walden easily survived his own Tea Party challenge in Oregon's primary last month.

Walden chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. He is close to House Speaker John Boehner, who is coming to Oregon for a Walden fundraiser. Walden is friendly with Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, who wasted no time launching his bid to succeed Cantor.

Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes says Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Republican conference — the fourth ranking GOP leadership perch — also is interested in Cantor's former job. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California is next in the leadership pecking order and can be expected to vie to move up.

Inaction Response to Navy Yard Shooting

The latest mass shooting, this time perilously close to the U.S. Capitol, has produced the same thud of silence in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he still lacks the votes to pass any significant gun control legislation. And if the Democratically controlled Senate is stymied, you can imagine the challenge in the GOP-controlled House.

Perhaps it is one of those telling yet cruel coincidences that two Colorado state senators who voted for legislation requiring universal background checks were just recalled in special elections. And this is in a state that has experienced two recent mass shootings. The alleged Navy Yard shooter had been arrested in Seattle for firing three pistol shots into the tires of a man who angered him. The Navy contractor in DC said he never would have hired the shooter if he had known. But the message in the Colorado election left a deeper impression. 

The shooting spree Monday at the Navy Yard, which is at the edge of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, sent shudders down a lot of backs across America, including those of men and women in the military. Despite their security, military bases have become ready-made targets for shooters with nobody in particular to kill, but with the ability to walk into a gun shop and legally buy a shotgun.

There was huge irony in the White House Rose Garden as President Obama, trying to put the Syrian chemical weapons episode in the rearview mirror, held a press conference to refocus national attention — and the attention of House GOP leaders — on the still-flagging U.S. economy. While he spoke, Congress and other government offices were in lock-down while authorities searched for potential additional shooting suspects in the neighborhood.