The Minority Has Real Power

Yesterday I speculated on the doubtful future of whomever the Republicans choose as their nominee for Speaker to replace John Boehner. That is due to the toxic schism in their caucus. But there is a far more certain outcome if Democrats wish to wield their power! The actual election for a new Speaker will take place before the entire House on October 29. Every member casts a vote, not just Republicans. Historically, members of the minority party slavishly cast their votes for their party leader, who has about the same chance of election as you or I do. Sometimes they just vote present, which is only marginally less lemming-like.

IMG_0388But think a minute. Suppose the Democrats watch the results of the Republican conference on Thursday and consider which of the top contenders is best from their viewpoint. Yes I know, they are all Republicans so none have much to recommend them from a Democrat’s perspective. But not making a choice is the same thing as making one. It leaves the choice solely to Republicans. Can that ever be the best for Democrats?

If they swallow their reservations, Democrats have the electoral muscle to choose the Speaker, i.e. the best of the bad as they see it. Why isn’t that more sensible than what they normally do? Of course Republicans could thwart this ploy by unifying behind one candidate. But even this provides tangible benefits for the functioning of the House. A Speaker secure in his office is better able and more likely to negotiate compromises on important issues. Moreover, the knowledge that Democrats will have their say would block efforts by an anarchic minority of Republicans to blackmail their leader, as the right-wing repeatedly has done with Boehner.

Do I expect this sensible policy to be followed? Absolutely not! On average, members of the House show less good sense than the average pet dog, and the Democratic leadership barely qualifies for that title.

Speaker of the House … for a while?

43With John Boehner’s announced resignation, there will be a vote on his replacement as House Speaker this coming Thursday. Such votes have happened infrequently in the past. In the last 26 years, there have been only five Speakers. But I suspect that we are entering an entirely new era.

Both parties have vast chasms that divide their caucuses, but this is most notable for Republicans who now hold sway in the House and who probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This means that each significant bill represents a possibility for a challenge to the Speaker. His decisions to bring up a bill and to specify how it is managed on the floor will no doubt provoke opposition and, in the current climate, perhaps a challenge to his position. In the near future, this will include bills to continue government funding, raise the debt limit, reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, extend vital business tax provisions, and deal with transportation infrastructure. It only takes a few dissidents to enter a motion to vacate the chair. Just the threat of this was influential in Boehner’s decision to leave.

The Speaker’s Lobby, just off the House floor, contains portraits of all 61 Speakers thus far. I don’t think there is sufficient wall space there to handle the coming flood.