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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The House of Representatives is in a state of total chaos, after the sudden withdrawal of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from the race to become Speaker of the House. Who will get the job now? And who would even want it?

McCarthy, the onetime heir apparent, proceeded to ruin his chances after he publicly boasted as an accomplishment that the Benghazi investigation committee was put together in order to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

McCarthy was also stymied by the continued renegade behavior of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of right-wing GOP members. It’s conceivable this group might have committed the nearly unprecedented act of refusing to vote for the Republican nominee on the House floor on account of the leadership’s refusal to trigger a government shutdown —a standoff that has brought the House GOP to the point of crisis.

So what other names are emerging from the Republican peanut gallery as contenders? (Though come to think of it, we thought that McCarthy was the peanut gallery.)

Here are just a few possibilities.

All eyes are now on Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, architect of Republican proposals to privatize Medicare, and of course the losing GOP nominee for vice president in 2012. Ryan has been a hero of the right, but would risk a lot by taking on the duties of actual governance.

Soon after McCarthy’s big stunner, Ryan put out a statement reiterating (after his earlier decision following Boehner’s initial retirement) that he would still not be running for speaker. However, The Washington Post reports that Boehner is personally asking Ryan to run for the speakership. And now even Kevin McCarthy himself is telling National Review, “I personally want Paul Ryan” — though given McCarthy’s unpopularity with the Freedom Caucus, maybe an endorsement is the surest thing he could do to ruin Ryan’s chances.

Still running is Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman who launched his campaign this past weekend. You might remember Chaffetz as the man who unveiled a bizarrely dishonest graph about Planned Parenthood at last week’s hearing, and then continued to defend it even as the inaccuracies were pointed out to him on national television.

Another problem: Chaffetz has been a longtime participant in the Benghazi investigations, the legitimacy of which McCarthy has tainted.

Daniel Webster of Florida is also running, after becoming the candidate of the same far-right House Freedom Caucus that helped to bring down Boehner and McCarthy. Back in January, a group of Republicans who were seeking to block Boehner on the House floor in the election for speaker, selected Webster as their main candidate — an effort that just barely failed at the time.

Another possible compromise candidate might be Peter Roskam of Illinois. In a fascinating turn, an article ran last night in National Review that floated him as the “the next-next speaker” after McCarthy — and with McCarthy out of the picture, perhaps this other man could become a major player.

And then there’s some comic relief, courtesy of the GOP’s southern base. According to Fox News, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia is now running. He’s man who infamously called Barack and Michelle Obama “uppity” during the 2008 election — and then insisted that he’d never even heard of that word’s history as an insult against African-Americans.

Westmoreland very memorably appeared in a 2006 episode of The Colbert Report, during which he talked about how he didn’t actually have to pass legislation. And in one of the truly classic moments from the early years of the show, Colbert asked the congressman — who favored the public posting of the Ten Commandments — to actually list those same commandments from memory. (Spoiler warning: He couldn’t.)

Photo: Elephants performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, November 8, 2008. (via Wikimedia Commons)

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