Last week, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California), the House Majority Leader, stunned the political world when he withdrew his name from consideration to fill the spot soon to be vacated by outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).
From the time of the announcement of Boehner’s resignation until McCarthy’s announcement, most political observers anticipated things would pretty much be the same in the House of Representatives, perhaps with more conservatives in prominent committee assignments, or even leadership roles.
The idea was that McCarthy would broker a deal with the so-called House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of about 40 House Republicans, to unite the conference heading into House leadership elections. But somewhere along the way, that didn’t work out and, at the very last minute, McCarthy bowed out.
As it stands now, the near-term future of House leadership is in question. Reportedly Boehner will ride out the turmoil as long as needed until Republicans can reach a consensus.
But what does this mean for the Alabama delegation?
Earlier this year in his reelection bid, Boehner won support from all the Republicans in the Alabama House delegation, with the exception of newly elected Rep. Gary Palmer, who fulfilled a campaign promise not to vote for Boehner by casting his vote for Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Both Palmer and Rep. Mo Brooks are members of the same House Freedom Caucus that played a role in thwarting McCarthy’s bid for Speaker.
For the most part, Alabama House Republicans have been loyal to the House GOP leadership. According to data from OpenCongress.org, if you compare each member’s voting record to McCarthy’s record in this Congress (since House Speaker Boehner rarely participates in votes), you can see the loyalty to party leadership.
Member voting similarity versus Kevin McCarthy’s record, 114th Congress:
Martha Roby, 96 percent
Robert Aderholt, 92 percent
Gary Palmer, 92 percent
Mike Rogers, 91 percent
Bradley Byrne, 90 percent
Mo Brooks, 87 percent
Terry Sewell (Democrat), 27 percent
Roby’s loyalty to leadership may be the reason she’s facing a challenge on her right flank from Wetumpka Tea Party president Becky Gerritson. Gerritson received some national attention when she testified before a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on organizations potentially targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for political beliefs and described herself as a “born-free American woman.”
Both Roby and Byrne have earned high-profile committee assignments during Boehner’s tenure. Roby currently sits on the House Benghazi Select Committee and Byrne is on the powerful House Rules Committee.
When the dust settles from the departure of the old regime of Boehner-McCarthy-Scalise, what happens to Alabama’s priorities going beyond the ideological components of politics?
Byrne has stated on numerous occasions his priorities include reforming the draconian red snapper fishing regulations, ensuring the littoral combat ship (LCS) program remains in Mobile and the ultimate building of a new Interstate 10 bridge to replace the often-congested Wallace Tunnel at the Mobile River.
Right now the big question is, which way will the House GOP caucus go in establishing new leadership? Should it go in a decidedly more conservative or even libertarian direction, could funding for the LCS program be threatened, since some view the prototype as controversial? The same goes for the I-10 bridge, which could be delayed if some looking to stem the tide of federal spending have their way.
Those are just a few of the things to think about with Congress in flux.
Other members who have officially announced their intention to run for the spot include Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Daniel Webster (R-Florida), but both are considered long shots. There also has been speculation Reps. Darrell Issa (R-California) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) will run.
For now, however, the favorite seems to be a very reluctant Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee. As of the early part of this week, there is a “Draft Ryan” movement underway.
But Ryan comes with some questions.
There is a lot of skepticism about him as a viable speaker candidate among conservatives because he supported the controversial Trade Promotion Authority, a measure that ceded power from the Congress and gave the executive branch more power in negotiating trade agreements for purposes of fast-tracking those agreements.
A compromise could be in order. Should the so-called establishment wing of the Republican party get its way and have someone of the Boehner ilk fill the role of Speaker through the end of this Congress, conservatives could, as a concession, have their pick of who would fill the Majority Leader or Whip slots.
That, for right now, seems to be the path of least resistance, as conservatives don’t have the numbers to elect their candidate. But they will need to when the House ultimately votes on Boehner’s replacement.
This situation on Capitol Hill and the crowded 2016 Republican presidential field does call into question the future of the GOP and what it stands for. All of these disparate elements vying to be the face of the party in Congress and in the White House suggest the party is really struggling to define its identity.
That trickles down to Alabama, which as a one-party Republican state will take its cues from what happens nationally and in Washington, D.C.