“ The speakership is no easy job.” That’s an understatement from U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany on the resignation of John Boehner from the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives.
What Boustany, R-Lafayette, could have added is that it’s a particularly hard job with Republicans in the majority in the House.
The party remains splintered, even as it won a resounding victory in the 2014 midterm elections. The majority party has since been split within itself. Conservative activists constantly warred with Boehner, an Ohioan who tried to push substantive legislation that sometimes involved compromise with the minority Democrats. Boehner’s bigger challenge was working to pass bills that could also pass muster with the Senate.
On the surface, Republicans are in charge in the Senate, too. But the rules of the other chamber allow a minority — 40 of 100 members — to block basically anything. With the GOP fighting within itself, with arguments over whether the party’s positions are conservative enough, reaching accommodations on legislation with the Senate and with Republican insurgents may make the speaker’s job not just difficult, but impossible.
Louisiana might actually benefit from the turmoil, if the third-ranking GOP leader moves up. Steve Scalise of Metairie is poised to run for majority leader if Kevin McCarthy of California wishes to succeed his boss Boehner.
If so, the state will gain in clout in the Congress, and coming as it does when Louisiana faces existential challenges like rising sea levels and an eroding coastline, the federal role in our affairs will only increase. We believe Scalise, of impeccable conservative credentials, would also bring a great deal of savvy at reconciling differing views in the caucus. He did so in the Louisiana Legislature and in his short time as majority whip.
That would be a real asset to the party.
But he surely knows that Boehner himself was once considered a conservative firebrand. Last session’s reputation might not calm the troubled waters ahead.
Curiously, the speaker leaves office at a time when he could pass almost any bill through the House of Representatives, by combining loyalist Republicans with Democrats. But the internal politics of the caucus made arriving at compromise very difficult.
By claiming Boehner’s scalp, the insurgent conservatives have made the party’s tangled leadership into not just an ideological squabble but also a constitutional problem: A House incapacitated by its minority blocs does not fulfill the Founding Fathers’ ambitions for it to be broadly representative of the people.
In more homely terms, the tail is wagging the dog. That’s not good for the institution.
Say what you will about John Boehner, the barkeeper’s son who rose to high office, but he loved the House as an institution of government. That is threatened by sectarianism in the GOP caucus.