The surprise announcement by Speaker John Boehner that he will resign in late October is a victory for Tea Party forces who wanted major change within the GOP in Congress, but it certainly does not guarantee that more conservative Republicans can play kingmaker, or that the GOP leadership team in the House will be any different in the future.
As of now, all signs point to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the next House Speaker; he’s currently Boehner’s top lieutenant, the House Majority Leader.
“I think Kevin wins,” one Republican lawmaker told me this weekend, as there were no indications yet of any organized opposition to McCarthy, who frankly isn’t seen by many as being that much different than Boehner.
So what’s next?
1. Leadership elections for House GOP – It’s not clear when House Republicans will vote on their nominee for Speaker, and no matter who gets the most votes within the GOP conference – many think right now that most likely would be Kevin McCarthy – more conservative Republicans who didn’t like Boehner could still scuttle McCarthy’s election as Speaker in a vote on the House floor by withholding their support in a final election by the full House. One GOP lawmaker told me he warned McCarthy that he could face a bruising floor fight among Republicans unless he can first win over Tea Party conservatives. One note on the timing of these elections – more conservative Republicans want to wait a few weeks – that may not happen.
2. Will conservatives run anyone for Speaker? – So far, the only alternative to Rep. Kevin McCarthy is Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), who ran an ill-fated campaign for Speaker earlier this year, and received 12 votes. As of now, no Tea Party candidate has emerged, and a statement from one conservative group on Sunday didn’t seem to hint about anyone making such a run. “The House Freedom Caucus has not yet decided who we will support for the office of Speaker of the House, nor for any positions that could subsequently become vacant,” conservatives said in a Sunday statement. Also, no one from that group has yet announced a run for any other House GOP leadership post.
3. While conservatives wait, others are not – The phone calls for support for leadership positions below the job of Speaker began immediately after Boehner told his fellow Republicans that he would be leaving Congress, as GOP lawmakers started to scramble. But a lot of those calls weren’t from lawmakers who would be readily identified as Tea Party conservatives, feeding the thought that while this group of conservatives is very good at getting attention and fueling outrage, they aren’t as good at the back room maneuvering that you need to win a position of power in the House. It’s a test for the House Freedom Caucus.
4. What about a government shutdown this week? – The Boehner announcement seemed to take the steam out of the chance of a shutdown on Wednesday night, when government funding runs out; but the possibility can’t be ruled out, as some conservatives want all funding blocked for Planned Parenthood in any temporary budget. Republican leaders want to fund the government through December 11, and use the time until then to work out a broader deal on the budget for the next fiscal year. This fight is sure to bubble over into the race for leadership posts in the House GOP as well.
5. Democrats push Boehner to act on major legislation – One big story making the rounds this weekend is that Boehner will use his final weeks as Speaker to push major bipartisan bills through the House. Some of the items include: a highway construction plan, breaking the budget caps for a deal on the sequester, renewing the Export-Import bank charter and more – items that might have more support among Democrats. The House has only 16 days in session on the schedule between now and October 30, when Boehner has said he will leave the Congress. Nothing big is on the legislative schedule for this week – and the appearance of any of those items would certainly prompt a big battle within the GOP.