Update: This article was published on October 7, 2015. Recently, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race for Speaker, which postponed the vote and ended the race for Majority Leader.
For the past five years and three sessions of Congress, House Republicans have been plagued by both infighting and an inability of many to cross the aisle. The resignation of Speaker John Boehner will leave as many as three leadership positions open; his successor will be chosen by the GOP caucus the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 8. After the House ratifies this decision on Thursday, Oct. 29, the caucus will select the rest of the leadership. Boehner has been criticized for his lack of leadership skills, and the Republican Party itself has been criticized for its inability to cross the aisle. To preview this special election, I will assign grades to each candidate based on the two traits that will be needed to end the culture of gridlock in Congress: leadership and bipartisanship.
Speaker of the House
Kevin McCarthy (California)
While an ascension to Speaker after less than a decade in the House has not been seen in over a century, McCarthy’s lack of experience has not seemed to deter his managerial prowess. McCarthy was serving as Majority Whip during the influx of 87 new Republicans to the House in 2010. His position uniquely suited him to work with these Tea Party-influenced freshmen, leading Speaker Boehner to tell The New York Times McCarthy has “probably has a better handle on the freshmen than anybody else here.” For his management skills, he deserves top marks.
Speaker of the House is the one House leadership position that does not specifically serve its party. To be an effective leader of the entire House, McCarthy must feel comfortable reaching across the aisle. Unfortunately, he hardly has a professional relationship with the Minority Leader (who is from his own state) and implied on FOX News Thursday, Sept. 29 the Benghazi special committee exists in part to hurt Hillary Clinton politically. He seems to have alienated himself from the left in the past, but McCarthy’s influence in passing the continuing resolution and the praise he receives from the few Democrats that he does know save him from a failing grade here.
Daniel Webster (Florida)
While Daniel Webster has yet to hold any chairmanships or leadership positions in the House, he did serve as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He received numerous awards from both state and national organizations during his tenure, and argues the House needs change and should be run how he ran the Florida House in the nineties. While his experience is certainly admirable at the state level, he is still relatively unknown at the federal level and thus is at a disadvantage forming relationships with members.
In his first year in Congress, Webster was a member of an unofficial bipartisan group of congressmen and women who “simply long to get something accomplished.” This group has since become more formalized; this past May, the Bipartisan Working Group introduced the Budget Integrity Act. Webster and his colleagues co-sponsored this bill. Unfortunately, Webster’s stringent views on abortion and support of covenant marriage make him a polarizing, right-wing figure that may have trouble gaining support of Democrats. When it comes to bipartisanship, Webster is mediocre at best.
Jason Chaffetz (Utah)
The most recent addition to the speaker race, John Chaffetz is adamant that he is the alternative necessary in this election. As he told FOX News, there has become a divide within the House GOP, and he is “offering himself as an alternative [to] bridge that divide.” In a recent Politico interview, Chaffetz touted his skills of gaining the support of the far right in a way that will not alienate the more moderate members of the party. While Chaffetz certainly seems to be saying the right things, the only real leadership experience he has, Chairman of the Oversight Committee, includes stripping a subcommittee chair of chairmanship for voting out of line, an act he now calls a “mistake.” Chaffetz the leader is still relatively unknown, but his lack of any serious mistakes in the past gives him a passable grade.
Chaffetz is only a third-term representative, but he has garnered much popularity and a chairmanship largely due to his bipartisan background. As the Chairman of the Oversight Committee, he was praised by both parties for his investigation into Secret Service, federal employee tax delinquency, and sex parties involving DEA members, all issues important to both parties, according to The Hill. He has a good relationship with his committee’s Ranking Member, Elijah Cummings, who was has said the Speaker candidate is constantly willing to reach across the aisle and hear out Democrats in debate. As Cummings told Time, “Although [Chaffetz and I] have always had disagreements, I have always found him to be non-disagreeable.” With so much praise from the left, Chaffetz deserves credit for his bipartisan skills.
When the speakership race was solely between Webster and McCarthy, the latter seemed like a clear winner. His relationships with the 2010 freshmen and recognizable face eclipsed Webster’s promise of a Congress run like ‘90s Florida. Chaffetz, however, is actually one of the freshmen McCarthy is relying on, and his entrance into the race offers a true alternative to the Boehner legacy. Chaffetz’s ability to work with Democrats and distance from the exiled leadership coupled with McCarthy’s recent blunder with comments on Benghazi, may give the Utah native a fighting chance. Though even he expects a loss this Thursday, I pick Jason Chaffetz for Speaker of the House.
Steve Scalise (Louisiana)
Steve Scalise has two distinguishing features: his close ties to K-Street and his loose ties to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a white supremacist group led by David Duke. In his first month as Majority Whip, Scalise recruited a lobbyist to assist in hiring decisions, proving close relationships with lobbyists that could serve him well as Majority Leader by giving him access to information. After reports came out saying he addressed EURO in 2002, Scalise failed to deliver majorities in a few critical votes. While the announcement email he sent to colleagues described his plan to outline policy that comes from “the bottom up,” the credibility and respect he loses due to ties with David Duke prevent him from getting a great grade in management.
Scalise is used to working with Democrats. In April, he and a fellow Louisiana Representative, Democrat Cedric Richmond, secured federal funding for restoration of the Louisiana coast in a bipartisan effort. Richmond, the only African-American congressman from Louisiana, also defended Scalise’s character after the EURO story broke. Scalise regularly leads bipartisan delegations to foreign nations, most recently on tours to investigate offshore energy and economic development efforts. Scalise can boast solid experience with both sides of the spectrum.
Tom Price (Georgia)
Though many called for Representatives Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling to run for House leadership, both have instead decided to endorse Tom Price for Majority Leader. Ryan issued a statement citing Price’s conservative record and “know-how to be an effective leader.” Price is respected within the party for being an expert on policy, and this belief translated into his leading the Republican Study Committee during its most influential years. With no black spots on his record and high praise, he earns a top grade.
Price was in the GOP majority, but House minority, in the continuing resolution vote last week, an action that pleases the far-right base of the party, but promotes a strict division on party lines. It was reported by Newsmax that on most budget negotiations between the Budget Committee and President Obama, Price was outnumbered by both parties. Though not an entirely polarizing figure, Price has little experience working with both parties.
Scalise’s background with EURO could be overlooked if his credentials were undisputably better than his opponent’s. However, with support from figures like Paul Ryan, Tom Price will most likely earn the respect of his colleagues that has been slipping through his fingers. Congressional connections and a staunchly conservative background trump muddy backgrounds and ties to a failing leadership, so Tom Price is my choice for Majority Leader.