Follow congressional Republicans’ efforts to select a new speaker of the House, and you’re bound to run into a Georgian, or five. Few situations better illustrate how the Georgia and national GOPs mirror one another, for good or ill.
When John Boehner said he was handing over the gavel, one of the first possible replacements named was Rep. Tom Price. The former surgeon has skillfully carved out a niche in Washington as a policy wonk with broad support within the party.
Price instead readied a campaign for majority leader, held by the initial front-runner to succeed Boehner, Kevin McCarthy. But since McCarthy unexpectedly dropped out of the race, Price has chosen to bide his time. Someone with strong conservative-policy credentials isn’t necessarily who members want, as Paul Ryan is learning.
With the party at an impasse, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland surprisingly stepped forward. The longtime state legislator has been rumored as a potential gubernatorial contestant in 2018, so the prospect he’d stay in Washington as speaker was unexpected. Westmoreland’s campaign is on ice as Ryan tries to solidify support, but he could revive it if Ryan fails.
Whether Westmoreland or Price manages to move up may depend on a few other Georgians.
Two freshman congressmen, Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk, are members of the Freedom Caucus that has held up the election for speaker. It was the Freedom Caucus that made it clear McCarthy couldn’t win without Democrats’ votes, and it’s the Freedom Caucus that has yet to sign off on Ryan’s candidacy.
Loudermilk told reporters he’ll maintain his independence from the caucus on the speaker vote. Hice has not. That may be because of the fifth Georgian enmeshed in this mess: Hice’s predecessor, Paul Broun.
Broun finished a distant fifth in last year’s Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat, but he’s said to be eyeing a challenge to Hice next year. In the meantime, Broun has re-emerged as part of the anti-everyone caucus.
First, he helped launch a website called FireMcCarthy.com. Now he and such other luminaries as Alan Keyes have moved on to FirePaulRyan.com. (One can only guess they have reserved similar domain names for, oh, about 230 other House members.)
If hiring someone as speaker isn’t a prerequisite for these folks to “fire” them, it’s hard to know what would satisfy them. Ryan has set the recent conservative gold standard for budgets and was on his way to doing the same for tax reform before the current chaos. But because he supports immigration reform — and even though he told fellow House Republicans he wouldn’t pursue such a bill as speaker until Barack Obama leaves the White House — he is branded a conservative apostate.
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, madness. Show me a politician who’s been in Congress more than a few months and has always voted the way the Broun brigade wants, and I’ll show you someone who couldn’t win the speaker election (or get more than, say, 9.63 percent of a statewide primary vote in Georgia).
The kicker? All of this could wind up being a preview of our state elections in 2018. You might want to start figuring out which of these sides you’re going to take.