Paul Ryan’s decision to lay out conditions to him running for House Speaker really isn’t surprising because he doesn’t want the job. But Jazz has some valid concerns about the conditions and what they might mean for a possible Ryan speakership. The one which bothers him (and myself) the most has to do with how many votes it takes to boot a Speaker out. There’s seems to be a little bit of confusion as to what Ryan is actually seeking to get amended. The Washington Post was pretty vague in their description of what Ryan said.
He told colleagues he would seek to change the rule allowing a simple majority of the House to remove a sitting speaker. The threat of such a vote helped hasten Boehner’s departure.
But Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp made it seem like Ryan’s demand was more of a big deal to National Review.
…specifically his demand to repeal Thomas Jefferson’s motion to vacate the chair, which gives representatives the power to oust a sitting Speaker, as they did with Boehner.
“It was my understanding that Thomas Jefferson thought that was good for the House,” Huelskamp says, “and Paul Ryan thinks he doesn’t have to live by that?”
A minor correction for Huelskamp (although I had to do a ton of digging to find out). Jefferson originally intended the rules to be for the Senate, not the House. Monticello.org writes he spent four years trying to write A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, before it was published right before he became president. It isn’t clear when the House made it their rules and adapted the language to fit the House (one blog suggests 1837), but they weren’t intended for the House when they were written. However, since they are now “the rules,” they need to be followed.
So what does Jefferson’s Rules actually say about the removal of a Speaker of the House? The answer is not a lot.
A Speaker may be removed at the will of the House, and a Speaker pro tempore appointed.
The interpretation suggests simple majority, which is how the House has operated. The change is a little worrying but Ryan can quell these fears by being more clear on how many votes he wants it to take to get a Speaker removed. If it’s a 50% vote from the entire House (not just a quorum) or a 51-60% vote of if there is a quorum, then maybe that tweak is worth discussing. If it’s closer to a 65-90% vote, then Ryan can enjoy being House Ways and Means Committee chair for as long as the GOP holds the House.Ryan may be worried about what almost happened to ex-Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon who had leftist Republicans almost force him out in a revolt in 1910.
When it comes to spending time with his family on the weekend or not fundraising as much, that’s probably not as bad as some members of the GOP think. It always seemed odd to me that John Bohener spent a lot of time fundraising (POLITICO says it was over $28M this year alone), instead of leading (there are plenty on the Right who have criticized President Barack Obama for doing the same thing). But is it really that bad if Ryan wants to let the fundraisers “fundraise,” so he can focus on policy decisions and his family? National Review reports the National Republican Congressional Committee is on board with Ryan’s plan.
[ Missouri Congresswoman Ann ] Wagner, who serves as finance chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says the committee is fine with Ryan’s proposal and is working on a plan to ensure the committee’s fundraising remains in good shape. She says she was also heartened by his statement that when he did travel to help Republicans campaign, he would focus not just on fundraising but on communication, and would do more local press and grassroots events – activities past speakers have not usually engaged in.
It seems it was Newt Gingrich who really turned the focus of the Speaker into a fundraising in 1995, but that makes sense given how expensive political campaigns are getting. But it doesn’t appear Ryan isn’t willing to go fundraise, he just doesn’t want to do it that often. Which isn’t a bad thing. It would just depend how often he’s communicating and holding grassroots events and who’s running them.
The not wanting to work weekends bit may actually be better than people realize. For one, it suggests Ryan might be the kind of Speaker who is tired of operating “deadline to deadline” and “crisis to crisis.” This is something both Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz complained during their filibusters on how the Senate operates. Ryan’s claim he doesn’t want to work weekends could mean there won’t be any late Sunday night votes on issues because the House has already taken care of its business and gone home. This isn’t a bad thing and could push the Senate towards operating the same way. It’s a big maybe, but if it changes how Congress operates and stops ridiculous deadlines like, “OMG WE’RE GONNA GO OVER THE FISCAL CLIFF!!!!111!!!!” it might not be bad.
But then again, maybe Ryan is Boehner 2.0 and all about power consolidation. ‘Friday can’t come soon enough. He’s not the best choice (again that’s Justin Amash or Thomas Massie for my own personal politics) but Ryan may be the right one. If he’s not going to be speaker, the question is, “Then who?”