Nice Republicans don’t always make the best speakers of the House. And after the better part of a decade, Republicans have little to show for their now lost majority.
There were no lasting spending decreases. There was no immigration reform. No real Obamacare repeal. Nice Republicans don't make great speakers of the House -- at least according to Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
“Well, Boehner and Ryan are nice guys,” the old GOP bull said of the last two Republican House speakers — one who is now a weed lobbyist and the other soon to be some kind of a roving public policy wonk.
A legislative veteran of four decades and the second-most senior member of the House, Sensenbrenner points instead to former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “You know,” he tells a recent meeting of the Washington Examiner editorial board, DeLay “was called The Hammer for a reason.”
It was DeLay who helped sparked the Republican Revolution as a rank-and-file member of the minority. It was DeLay who scuttled calls for censure and settled instead on impeachment for President Bill Clinton as majority whip. It was DeLay who united a fractured GOP majority behind the legislative agenda of President George W. Bush as majority leader.
Vote against the party, and DeLay would threaten to pull your committee spot. Vote against the party too many times, and Delay would help someone primary you. Even while serving as chairman of the House Science Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, Sensenbrenner wasn’t exempt: “He hit me over the head a couple times.”
But that was over a decade ago, when party unity made twisting arms easier. As Sensenbrenner points out, Boehner and Ryan were frustrated by political arithmetic and an entirely different dynamic in the House. Of course, it should be noted that Ryan never wanted the gavel. He was happier with his spreadsheets and his policy, planning overhauls of the tax code, which he achieved, and reform of the entitlement system, which remains elusive. By circumstance and duty, Ryan was instead forced to turn from policy and more to internal politics.
That policy nerd was confronted with an ongoing and ugly church fight when he took over for Boehner. There was the majority of the majority — about “170 or 180 people” — who followed leadership, and a minority of the majority — “a group in the Freedom Caucus and a group in the moderates" — who were not so wiling. Getting legislation out of the House would now require all three camps “to agree to something.”
“This was their major frustration,” Sensenbrenner remembers, noting that both Boehner and Ryan had majorities bigger than the one Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has just built. “There was a lot of frustration on both of the speakers that in order to govern … they ended up having to push-and-pull and make deals that didn’t really work out.”
One of the casualties of this fracturing, one of the compromisers who tried to broker a compromise when the House took up Obamacare repeal, was Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J. Sensenbrenner notes that things “didn’t really work out” for that member of the so-called Tuesday Group. He lost his re-election narrowly two weeks ago.
As Republicans gripe over internal dysfunction while preparing to enter the minority, Democrats can give thanks for party unity. Assuming she picks up the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi won’t face a majority set against itself. Looking at the incoming Congress, Sensenbrenner counts “a whole lot of progressives and not many blue dogs.”
The question, then, is how incoming Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will confront unified Democrats. In opposition, there won’t be as much squabbling as the Freedom Caucus, the Tuesday Group, and the rest of the rank-and-file come together in opposition. However, as everyone knows, McCarthy is unfailingly nice.