House Republicans made a calculated decision eight years ago as they began their campaign for the majority: They wanted a weak speaker.
So their 2010 campaign-style document — “A Pledge to America,” crafted at the time by a backbench Republican, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — vowed to reform the process and empower rank-and-file lawmakers to take part in drafting policy. Leaders were forbidden from rushing bills to the House floor and forced to demonstrate the constitutional veracity of any bill introduced.
The “Pledge” did not cure the disease of legislative dysfunction. But Republicans sure have succeeded in weakening the House speaker in terms of dictating the outcome of legislative battles and in exposing the current occupant to periodic eviction threats.
Now, eight years later, as McCarthy’s allies rally support for his own bid for speaker, one thing is all but certain: If McCarthy, currently the No. 2 GOP leader, ever does claim the gavel, he will almost certainly be a weak speaker worried about ideological threats within the House Republican Conference.
Officially, there is no race to succeed House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and no effort to usher him out the door sooner than his intended plan to retire after the November elections.
“Let me be very clear that I read that report. The report’s not true. When they brought it to me, it’s not true,” McCarthy protested to reporters at Tuesday’s leadership news conference.
He was referencing comments by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House. Mulvaney told attendees at a Colorado resort’s weekend retreat that he had discussed the idea of having Ryan step down sooner with McCarthy and having the vote for speaker immediately.
Coming soon after last week’s failed farm vote, amid a centrist and right-flank uprising on immigration policy, Mulvaney’s comments appeared to be a shot across the bow at Ryan. The lame duck speaker has been forced to defend his own hold on power, particularly after the usually reliable centrists bucked leadership by joining ranks with Democrats on a petition that would force a contentious immigration debate.
“Look, the members drafted me into this job because of who I am and what I stand for. I think members very much agree that what we should be doing is completing our agenda and our work,” Ryan said.
But what is happening now inside Ryan’s caucus, on immigration policy…