Considering the number of stories I see on a monthly basis about the imminent demise of John Boehner’s position as Speaker I’m half expecting to see him show up on an upcoming episode of Fear the Walking Dead. While none of these predicted scenarios ever seem to get off the ground they continue to show up in our inbox. That pattern repeats this week with a feature from Scott Wong at The Hill, but this one has a twist. The latest rumored plan has Boehner being replaced by… Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy?
With Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) job in doubt, House conservatives have been holding internal talks about a new leadership coalition that could include Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker and more conservative members occupying lower rungs on the leadership ladder.
The informal discussions among members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are preliminary and informal, multiple GOP lawmakers tell The Hill.
Still, the intensifying chatter suggests a vote to oust Boehner could happen as early as this fall. It also shows that if the Speaker survives until after the 2016 elections, conservatives are actively discussing what kind of leadership team could emerge in a post-Boehner Congress.
Scott’s take isn’t entirely fictional, but describing Boehner’s position as being “in doubt” may represent wishful thinking on the part of some of the more conservative members and the beltway media which loves a good food fight more than the reality on the ground. But for the sake of argument we can at least take a look at their prospects. Right off the bat I have to wonder what sort of coalition would form around this type of strategy because the primary dig at Boehner by the Freedom Caucus is that he’s too mainstream, establishment, or whichever other RINO adjective is in vogue this week. Assuming we accept this as the premise for a change, is McCarthy really the solution? Some of the conservatives in question are already skeptical.
A number of Republicans cautioned that McCarthy, a former majority whip, certainly doesn’t have the Speaker’s race sewn up. In fact, one Boehner critic, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), said installing McCarthy in the top post amounted to “a swap with no benefits.”
Wong’s article attempts to highlight a few times where Boehner and McCarthy have broken on policy, such as the Ex-Im bank issue. But representatives from different districts are always going to disagree on the odd issue here and there. For the most part they seem to have melded pretty well as a team. But with that said, nobody would be surprised if the Majority Leader eventually wound up in the big chair. When I interviewed Kevin McCarthy earlier this year we talked about his very rapid rise to one of the top positions in the party and the way he’s been able to bind together diverse constituencies when the need arises. He’s continued that tradition in his position as Majority Leader and that includes reaching out to groups like the Freedom Caucus. Of course, in order for him to move up and take the gavel there is the small matter of the seat being open, as well as requiring a desire on his part for a fight. It just seems unlikely.
Yes, there is unrest among the most conservative members, but we need to remember that the Freedom Caucus, while influential, was founded by Mark Meadows who seems to have an ax to grind with Boehner. Also, we’re talking about four or five dozen members. That’s not insignificant in any way and they can gum up a vote to be sure, but it’s far from a majority of the majority. John Boehner may have a fight on his hands, but his win loss record is pretty good thus far and I’m not ready to start fitting him for a role as a zombie just yet.
UPDATE: (Jazz) Two other things to cover on this question. First, the Speaker’s office released the following statement:
Navigating tough challenges isn’t new to this leadership team. The Speaker is focused on the America people’s priorities and how we can accomplish them. He’s got wide support amongst our members, and he is not going anywhere.
Second, I checked with some folks in a position to know this morning just to see if anything has changed from recent months. There seems to remain little doubt that, even when you get beyond all the normal posturing and politics on display in the House, John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy genuinely like each other, and McCarthy is completely loyal to the Speaker. The general perception is that this is a trial balloon being floated by the Freedom Caucus, but in the end they have no other viable candidate to replace Boehner who can get anywhere near the required number of votes. This story is good for some headlines but it’s difficult to believe that there’s much meat behind it.