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The announcement of Speaker Boehner’s sudden retirement has mostly been met with joy, and I am not sorry to see him go. But we should temper our enthusiasm about how radical a change will come with a new speaker.
The reality of the House, in my opinion, is that it is not made up of two parties. It is made up of three.
Democrats: This is easy. They’re what’s left over after Nancy Pelosi’s Obamacare jihad, which cleansed the House of moderate blue-dog democrats. Their districts are so gerrymandered that there’s little threat of them losing an election, no matter how crazy they are: See Maxine Waters, et al.
Republicans: Nominally the GOP, but in reality the line shifts on every vote. Their districts are not universally conservative, and they tend toward more moderate positions. To retain their seats, they don’t rock the boat.
Freedom Caucus (FC): Formed in January 2015, with Jim Jordan of Ohio as Chairman, these are the GOP’s troublemakers. They come from strong conservative districts, gerrymandered to stay that way. The Freedom Caucus grew out of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), which used to be a conservative voting block. When it became a conservative litmus test, many jumped on board — but they didn’t vote with the RSC, and it became ineffectual.
The total membership of the FC isn’t widely known. I’ve seen figures as low 37 and as high as 40 from credible sources and Wikipedia. For my analysis, I’ll give them 38 reliable members. Your mileage my vary.
The magic number in the House to get anything done is 218, and none of these groups make the hurdle. Republicans are close, and a handful or more defections to the right on certain votes helps to enforce their minority status.
The breakdown is:
This is the landscape Speaker Boehner lived with and the new speaker will inherit.
There’s no majority, and the tendency of the leadership to discount the FC and sometimes berate them makes it hard to create a majority from the right that includes the FC and Republicans.
The FC’s districts are solidly right-wing, and expect their representatives to use every means possible, including the power of the purse and even impeachment, to stop the progressive agenda. FC Representatives who fail to do this may expect a primary threat next cycle.
If the leadership tries to move right, toward the FC, many Republicans will drop off for fear of losing their seats to Democrats in districts they may have won, say, by 50.5%. Left with a minority position, the leadership has to move left — usually pretty far — and pick up Democrat votes to move legislation.
Nancy Pelosi is my pick for most effective legislator of the 21st century to date. She and Steny Hoyer are successful at unifying the Democratic vote on many issues. Thus it becomes a layup for the speaker and his chosen lieutenants and committee chairs to move left, drop the FC and some of the Republicans, and secure a majority sufficient move legislation.
We will have a new speaker soon, but we will not have a new pie chart. The next speaker could be Jim Jordan, but his challenge will no different from Speaker Boehner’s. The reality for a speaker coming from the FC is that in their beliefs about the proper size, scope, and role of the federal government, the Republicans are ideologically closer to Democrats than the FC.
Will things be better in the House? Unlikely, and I personally expect much worse, with the infighting being vicious.
Is there a way forward? The impediment the 114th Congress faces in moving conservative legislation to Obama’s desk, where it may be vetoed, is the Senate. Already, the Washington Times has come out with an article quoting the longest-tenured state Republican chairman calling for McConnell’s resignation.
I love a good revolution and even enjoy a bad one. I am happy to see Boehner go, but he did not go because anyone got a scalp. He got rich and tired, end of story. The landscape for the next speaker doesn’t improve and is precisely why nobody in the House wants the job, and every attempt to overthrow Boehner failed. There was always a group yelling for Boehner’s scalp. But nobody wants to set up shop in the speaker’s teepee.