Just the Facts

Ryan’s Retirement is an Opportunity to Rewrite the Rules

By No Labels
April 12, 2018 | Blog

When Speaker Paul Ryan announced this week that he will retire at the end of the year, it launched an immediate scramble to succeed him. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is often mentioned. So is Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Yet the better question is not who is elected, but how they are elected. Ryan’s departure presents an opportunity to recast how the Speaker is chosen and steer the House toward a more bipartisan and productive future.

As it stands, the Speaker is chosen by a simple majority of the chamber (218 of 435 members), allowing the majority party to select the Speaker. Changing the rules to require a 60-percent majority (261 of 435) would virtually ensure that members of both parties are required to elect the Speaker and dramatically change how the chamber is run.

 

Making the Speaker less vulnerable

Ryan is well respected within the Republican party. Yet, like his predecessor John Boehner, Ryan was consistently hampered by members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who can press their agenda by threatening the Speaker’s job. They can withhold votes at the Speaker election that begins each Congress. Or they can file a Motion to Vacate the Chair, calling a confidence vote at any time. They did both to Boehner. “The Freedom Caucus has begun to squeeze Ryan, much as it did to Boehner—warning him that without changes his tenure could be similarly endangered,” Politico wrote in December.

Changes to the rules can spare the next Speaker from facing that kind of leverage. The Motion to Vacate can be modified so that is is not used as a weapon. And the Speaker election can require a 60-percent majority, meaning that a small group of lawmakers can no longer threaten the Speaker’s job to gain leverage on policy.

In fact, a 60-percent requirement would radically change many aspects of how the House is run, including which bills are moved forward and how those bills are acted upon. The Speaker would no longer be beholden only to the majority party. Rather, they would be forced to interact with both parties to get things done.

 

A popular idea

The idea polls well. In a No Labels-Harris Poll in March, a strong majority (74 percent) supported the idea that the Speaker should be elected by both parties. The majority support held across all age groups, income brackets and education levels. It held among both men and women and in every region of the country. It even held up across party lines, with  81 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents saying said the Speaker should be elected in bipartisan fashion. The number fell to 60 percent among Republicans.

Whether there is any appetite for the idea in Congress is an open question. But as the country speeds toward November’s election, is is unclear whether Republicans will maintain control of the House. Whichever party prevails, the incoming Speaker deserves a chance to be productive. They deserve the opportunity tackle the vital issues facing the country—issues like immigration, border security and gun safety—without constant threat.

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