Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to drop out of the speaker race Thursday gave Republicans a lot to think about. But some Republicans say their leaders imposed a top-down decision on the process that fundamentally altered the outcome.
Two Republicans, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Tom Rice of South Carolina, spoke out during a special GOP conference meeting Friday to express concern that the rules of the House were not followed when Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, postponed the speaker election.
“We had two candidates yesterday and they called off the election because they didn’t like the result,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. “What’s this tell the American people? It looks like a banana republic here.”
Massie said there was discussion about the “impropriety” of dismissing the election because leadership suddenly didn’t like how it was going to end up. “If your man doesn’t win the GOP primary in a presidential race, are you gonna reopen the filing dates and move the elections? That’s essentially what they did yesterday,” Massie said.
Rep. Justin Amash also told CQ Roll Call he doesn’t think the delay was proper.
“They certainly wouldn’t have postponed the election had either of the other two candidates withdrawn,” Amash said.
The Michigan Republican said it is his understanding that once Boehner set the date of the election, all other decisions were up to Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
There is some debate on what actually happened — members note it was difficult to hear in the Ways and Means Committee room, where the election was supposed to take place, because of some microphone issues. But it seems as if Boehner made a motion to adjourn the meeting, no one objected and McMorris Rodgers banged the gavel.
Staff for McMorris Rodgers told CQ Roll Call that under the conference rules, Boehner has full discretion to set the date or move the date of the election, meaning he didn’t even need to make a motion.
The conference rules on the matter are vague, but they say organizational meetings of the conference “shall be called by the speaker.”
According to Lynn Jenkins, vice chairwoman of the GOP conference, the conference followed all the right procedures.
“The speaker moved that we adjourn and it passed by unanimous consent,” Jenkins said Friday during a brief hallway interview.
CQ Roll Call asked if that decision was supposed to be at the discretion of the conference chairwoman. “She adjourned the meeting,” Jenkins said. “She banged the gavel and said, ‘We are adjourned.’”
Jenkins noted that Boehner made the motion. “And everyone had an opportunity to object and not one person did,” the Kansas Republican said.
Asked for clarification on whether there was a vote, Jenkins said, “Do you know what unanimous consent is?”
At that point, the congresswoman’s communications director, Tom Brandt, who was walking with Jenkins, tried to end the interview. “We got the question. She’s answered the question. It’s over,” he said.
But CQ Roll Call pressed over the distinctions that seemed important to some members.
“Where was their voice?” Jenkins asked.
Told that some members were voicing their concerns Friday, Jenkins asked: “Twenty-four hours after the motion was made?”
Jenkins said the members are all professionals and they know when someone makes a motion. Asked to clarify that Boehner made a motion, Jenkins said: “He said, ‘I move to adjourn.’ That’s a motion, That’s why you say, ‘I move.’”
Brandt then ended the interview.
According to procedure, it would seem a motion to adjourn and a motion to postpone the election are different — though they both have the same practical effect.
But while the procedure for the delay may not have been completely clear, most members agree it was the right decision.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the controversy over the delay “a tempest in a tea pot.”
“Look, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “That did come up. And it was very clear that people thought the speaker did the right thing. That’s within his power to do that. That’s the overwhelming opinion in that room.”
Another Republican, Rep. Peter T. King of New York, agreed that Boehner did the right thing. And, like other members, he seemed to draw some parallels between conservatives crying foul on the procedure for the postponement and the current dynamic in the House in general.
When CQ Roll Call presented King with Massie’s comment that the House looks like a banana republic, King said the House is acting like a banana republic because conservatives are “forcing good people out of office” and keeping good people from running.
“And it’s a banana republic when 30 people can prevent the House from carrying out its constitutional duty,” King said.
Overall, most members indicated delaying the election was the right move.
One of the candidates for speaker, Daniel Webster, R-Fla., said it was “probably necessary” for Boehner to postpone — though he said he didn’t think leadership would have delayed the election had he dropped out.
House Freedom Caucus member Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said he agreed with Boehner’s decision.
McCarthy’s announcement “caught a lot of people off guard, by surprise, so I understand why the speaker delayed it,” Duncan said. “I’m OK with that.”
Duncan said there are different interpretations of the rules, but he said if Boehner had put the delay up for a vote, almost everyone would have moved to postpone the elections.
But some believe what happened reinforced that leaders are abusing the process.
“Even if it were within the rules,” Amash told CQ Roll Call, “it still indicates that the leadership [was] not interested in supporting the conference nominee — if the conference nominee were someone other than the candidate they were supporting.”