Something About the House of Representatives

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01), promoting his budget agenda.

“After we finished our wine and chicken wings, I thought, ‘This is someone who isn’t inclined to do it but understands he could have that legacy as speaker if the circumstances were right’. That’s why it’s a live possibility.

Stephen Moore

How can anybody possibly resist that quote?

No, really, until Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01) makes some sort of move, either bowing to pressure or finding some other way to silence the groveling, this would appear to be the holding pattern. Paul Kane and Robert Costa peruse the tea leaves, and perhaps the next best indicator of what’s going on is another marvelous quote from their effort for Washington Post:

“There is a story in ‘The Book of Virtues’ called ‘Boy Wanted,’ ” said William J. Bennett, a former education secretary in the Reagan administration and a mentor to Ryan. “Boys want him; girls want him. That’s what’s happening to Paul. He also has a sense of duty to his family, to the things he knows, like the Ways and Means Committee.”

Yeah, good luck with that one.

Meanwhile, Chris Cillizza notes Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), current chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, otherwise known as the investigation that ostensibly destroyed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA23) ascent to the speakership, borrowed a phrase from the House Majority Leader about hitting rock bottom, and acknowledging that “the House is bordering on ungovernable”.

Now, Gowdy was explaining to Welker why he wouldn’t be interested in the soon-to-be vacant job as speaker of the House. But his reasoning is almost certainly why Paul Ryan isn’t jumping at the job either, despite basically every establishment Republican in the country urging him to do it.

The problem for Ryan, Gowdy and anyone else who is thinking about being speaker can be explained in a very simple math problem. Republicans currently control 247 seats. There are, roughly, 40 Republican members―the vast majority of whom identify with the tea party-affiliated Freedom Caucus―who will vote against the wishes of leadership on almost any major measure unless the leadership adopts a very conservative stance. If you subtract 40 from 247, you get 207―11 votes short of what a speaker would need to pass a piece of legislation without relying on any Democratic votes.

To the one, it is a telling assessment. To the other, that only holds if it is an accurate assessment. We have plenty of reasons to accept it is reasonably accurate, and in doing so might catch a glimpse of some genuine insight about the conduct of House Republicans. For all their laments about President Obama and Democrats refusing to compromise, it seems worth noting that the House Republican outlook is that compromise is unacceptable; after all, the problem as Cillizza describes it is that the current division among Republicans is such that a Speaker might need to compromise with Democrats in order to pass a bill, and allowing Democrats any say in House legislation is exactly unacceptable to the majority. House Republicans can only govern, apparently, if they have absolute authority.

The fun part will be watching a conservative try to refute Cillizza’s basic assessment.


Cillizza, Chris. “Trey Gowdy is right. The House is basically ungovernable.” The Washington Post. 12 October 2015.

Kane, Paul and Robert Costa. “Chorus of voices pushing Paul Ryan toward speaker gavel grows louder”. The Washington Post. 9 October 2015.

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