Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vacant Musings About Capitol Hill

Second term Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC 11th) submitted a Motion to Declare the Speaker’s Chair vacant in July. This is not something which has been used in Congress in the last century. So initially, this seemed like a futile gesture of frustration filed by a disgruntled back bencher just before the Summer Break.  The Republican establishment thought that the motion would lose momentum by going through the standard committee process. But there are now reports that Speaker Boehner is worried that he is short of votes in the Republican caucus to be re-elected as Speaker.

At the start of the 114th Congress, Speaker Boehner faced a revolt from two dozen Tea Party types who voted for other GOP candidates.  Boehner barely won by two votes and was aided by the fact that many New York Democrats were absent for the vote to attend the funeral for Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY).  This exigency lowered the threshold for achieving a majority.

Some have speculated that insurgent Republican Congressmen could put up a liberal Republican candidate, like Rep. Peter King (R-NY 2nd), to win enough Democrat votes to take down the current king of the Hill.  This notion is mistaken because it presumes that Democrats would want to replace Speaker Boehner and does not fully understand the process.

In fact, there is some speculation that John Boehner might have to rely upon Democrat votes to retain the Speaker’s chair. Arguably, House Democrats may prefer to have  Boehner as Speaker if they are not going to be in the majority.  However, having Democrats prop up a wounded Republican Speaker would reflect poorly upon the cosiness of the Washington political establishment and the effectiveness of the leadership.

But there might be a passive way which the Democrat caucus could prop up their favored establishment opposition.  In the event that the Motion to Declare the Chair Vacant succeeds, Democrats could conveniently have a few dozen Democrats miss the vote, thereby lowering the total vote count, thereby countering the thirty GOP insurgents and re-electing Speaker Boehner.
 The trick would be to accurately estimate the number of dissenting GOP votes.  A similar outcome could also be achieved the helpful opposition voted “Present”, however, that would leave Democrat fingerprints on the vote.

If no candidate garners the necessary 218 votes (or a majority of those voting), then there would be subsequent votes.  But like the scenario of a brokered political convention, all bets are off after the initial round. If Mr. Boehner could not achieve a majority in the first vote, power would ebb away.  Without having the power of the Speaker’s chair and the ability to appoint chairmen and exile dissenters from committees, he would lose the fealty of the current leadership.  In fact, current Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 23rd) and current House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA 1st) might not be in contention for not mooting the revolt beforehand.

With the Iran Deal, legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and passing the Budget on the docket this fall, a leadership battle could make this a very interesting time on Capitol Hill.  But observing the machinations of the Senate's Corker/Cardin Iran Deal vote, don't discount the establishment's ability to choreograph "victories which seem inimical to the vox populi but keeps their Cocktail Party plans. 

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