It kind of looks like Paul Ryan's career is melting down. That's a good thing; he's a real threat to this country, a slick face of the plutocratic agenda. He doesn't call dismantling Social Security and Medicare “austerity” anymore. He called it a #BetterWay. But he got caught up in the maelstrom that is the Alt-right Trump campaign. And now the chatter that started on the Breitbart fringes has moved to the Republican mainstream. Hannity, for example, demanded Ryan be replaced by one of the crackpot extremists like Mark Meadows (NC) or even Louie Gohmert (TX). Members of Congress are openly talking about Boehnering Ryan.
Yesterday at Forbes budget expert and former congressional staffer (so, presumably not a crackpot) Stan Collender laid out a scenario that shows Ryan– already Trump's designated scapegoat for what's about to happen to him– turning over the Speaker's gavel soon after the election. Collender is probably not right but he seems pretty sure that Ryan either won't be Speaker after the lame duck or won't be Speaker during the lame duck. “It now looks,” he asserted, “like Ryan could be deposed or forced to resign this Congress in the lame duck session that begins a week after Election Day.”
I say this after hearing from several highly reliable sources that the House Freedom Caucus is seriously considering doing to Ryan what it did to former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) by threatening him with a privileged motion to vacate the chair. If a majority of the House supported the motion, Ryan would be removed immediately as speaker.
Getting 218 House Republicans to vote for a motion to vacate won’t be easy.
There currently are 246 GOP House members, so almost 89% of the caucus would have to support the motion for it to be adopted.
But 19 of the 246 Republicans are retiring at the end of this Congress and at least 10 more are expected to be defeated by Democrats on Election Day. If the past is any indication, the votes of these soon-to-be-leaving members will become far less reliable in the lame duck. Many might not vote as they have to move out of their their offices and begin to look for a job.
If all 29 decided not to vote, the 218 GOP votes needed to oust Ryan (I’m assuming House Democrats would not vote on the motion) wouldn’t exist. If only some of the 29 voted, the House Freedom Caucus would need more than 90% of the Republican caucus to agree to its motion, and that’s just not likely.
But there may not need to be an actual show of hands. Faced with the possibility of the congressional equivalent of a no confidence vote, Ryan would probably decide to pull a Boehner and immediately resign as speaker, announce that he won’t run again as speaker in the next Congress or announce that he is resigning from Congress at the end of this session.
Any of these options would throw the House into almost immediate chaos and severely limit what will get done in the lame duck.
Ryan is not likely to do what Boehner did by cleaning out the barn and making deals with House and Senate Democrats and the Obama administration on his way out the door. He has presidential ambitions and any last-minute deals on spending and other issues would greatly complicate a run for the GOP nomination.
Ryan might also want to stay in Congress and resume being chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Last-minute closed-door arrangements with Democrats would likely make that impossible.
But a leadership vacuum wouldn’t be the lame duck’s only problem.
If it were offered, the debate on a motion to vacate the chair could take several days. If the motion passed, the subsequent election for a new speaker would take several additional days. Even more days would be needed if, as many expect, the GOP caucus couldn’t quickly agree on even a new temporary speaker. The new speaker would then need time to organize his or her operations and determine how to proceed.
In the meantime, the clock on the three-week lame duck session and the expiration of the current continuing budget resolution would be running. With Thanksgiving in the middle of the lame duck and the Republican leadership (yes, I’m assuming the GOP still has a majority) needing to organize for the new Congress, the amount of time available for legislative work would be severely limited.
That would likely lead to an extension of the lame duck and CR for at least one week.
And all hell might break loose in the lame duck if the newly chosen speaker were a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Alas, one of the many problems with Collender's speculation– “19 of the 246 Republicans are retiring at the end of this Congress and at least 10 more are expected to be defeated by Democrats on Election Day. If the past is any indication, the votes of these soon-to-be-leaving members will become far less reliable in the lame duck”– is flawed. First, the 19 retiring are actually 25 who are retiring and many of them are stalwart Ryan allies who despise the extremists in the party. Reid Ribble (WI), Chris Gibson (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Joe Heck (NV), Lynn Westmoreland (GA), Todd Young (IN), Candice Miller (MI), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA), Scott Rigell (VA), Ed Whitfield (KY), Joe Pitts (PA), John Kline (MN) and Cynthia Lummis (WY) are not going to betray Ryan. I doubt Robert Hurd (VA), Jeff Miller (FL), Lord Charles Boustany (LA) or Dan Benishek (MI), Rich Nugent (FL) will either.
Tim Huelskamp (KS), Renne Ellmers (NC) and Randy Forbes (VA) lost their seats. Huelskamp wants to see Ryan die in the street like a dog. Ellmers less so– unless Trump has some kind of job for her at one of his golf courses and voting to screw Ryan is part of the deal. No idea where Forbes stands but I'd guess he'd stick with Ryan.
That leaves Matt Salmon (AZ), Ander Crenshaw (FL), Curt Clawson (FL), Marlin Stutzman (IN), John Fleming (LA), Stephen Fincher (TN), and Randy Neugebauer (TX) as the ones who either will or might vote against Ryan.
As for the 16 most likely Republicans to lose their seats Nov 8, nine are firm Ryan supporters:
• Jeff Denham (CA)
• David Valadao (CA)
• Darrell Issa (CA)
• Mike Coffman (CO)
• David Jolly (FL)
• Carlos Curbelo (FL)
• Robert Dold (IL)
• Peter King (NY)
• Pat Meehan (PA)
And that leaves 7 as possibilities to defect– although I wouldn't count on any of them except,maybe, Blum and Garrett.
• Steve Knight (CA)
• Rod Blum (IA)
• Cresent Hardy (NV)
• Frank Guinta (NH)
• Scott Garrett (NJ)
• Barbara Comstock (VA)
• Will Hurd (TX)
I'd say Ryan would have a better chance to make a quiet deal with Pelosi to allow some Democrats to vote for him than for the Freedom Caucus being able to pull off a coup. But, one thing for sure, it will certain be fun watching them try.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis