House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks out of the speaker nominee election on Oct. 8 after dropping out of the race on Capitol Hill. McCarthy had been considered the frontrunner for the speakership.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks out of the speaker nominee election on Oct. 8 after dropping out of the race on Capitol Hill. McCarthy had been considered the frontrunner for the speakership.

Late last month, House Speaker John Boehner stunned the political world with his announcement that he’d be resigning from his post. Two and half weeks later – more surprises: Boehner’s presumed successor, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, pulls out of the race. Both men were driven from their positions by conservative forces within their own party, leading many to say the GOP is in a state of chaos. We examine what’s next for the Republican leadership, and how the turmoil will impact critical budget deadlines and the 2016 elections.


  • Vin Weber Partner at Mercury, a consulting firm; former member of Congress representing Minnesota's 2nd district (1981-93)
  • Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
  • Adam Brandon President and CEO, FreedomWorks
  • Byron York Chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last Thursday, Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy announced he would withdraw his name from the race for House Speaker, throwing the party into tumult. So far, no clear alternative to McCarthy has surfaced. Here to discuss what happens now and what this could mean for the Republican party, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Byron York of The Washington Examiner, Vin Weber, former Republican congressman from Minnesota and joining us from Dallas, Texas, Adam Brandon of Freedom Works, a group promoting free markets and individual liberty.

  • 10:07:40

    MS. DIANE REHMIf you'd like to join us, call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:07:57

    MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGreat to be here, Diane.

  • 10:07:58

    MR. BYRON YORKGood to be here.

  • 10:07:59

    MR. VIN WEBERNice to hear you.

  • 10:07:59

    MR. ADAM BRANDONThanks for having me.

  • 10:07:59

    REHMNorman Ornstein, are we any closer to finding a House Speaker?

  • 10:08:05

    ORNSTEINNo, we're not, Diane. Certainly, Paul Ryan has said multiple times it will not be Paul Ryan and Paul Ryan would be the only one who would be a consensus choice at this point. So I think it's back to the drawing board. You know, there's still going to be a full court press on Ryan. He happens to be a very good family man. He has small children and this job would be a killer for that purpose, but also Ryan is smart enough to know that this is a no-win situation right now.

  • 10:08:35

    REHMVin Weber, can anyone unite the party at this point?

  • 10:08:41

    WEBERBoy, it's a -- I don't want to parse words too much, but it depends on your definition of unite, I think. I think that Paul Ryan is the strongest choice. I think there's a better than even chance that he will decide to do it. I have to take a little issue with my friend Norm's word consensus. Consensus implies unanimity and it's not quite unanimous. There are people that have expressed concerns about Paul.

  • 10:09:09

    WEBEREverybody likes him. Everybody respects him, but the divisions within the conference are real and some of them involve personalities, some of them involve the treatment of members by the current speaker. Those things have to be dealt with and it's not going to be easy to united the conference. But I do think we're getting closer, not further away. We're going to resolve this at some point and we will have a Speaker.

  • 10:09:32

    REHMDo you think, Byron York, that Paul Ryan will come around?

  • 10:09:38

    YORKActually, not. I kind of think he doesn't, but I don't know his -- I'm not inside his brain. I don't know his thinking. I think the thing to remember is you have these terrible problems inside the Republican conference. Some of it's about issues. A lot of it's about tactics. And as Vin was saying, I think you cannot overlook a lot of the personal stuff, the inside baseball, the resentments and anger there. Boehner retiring did not solve that problem.

  • 10:10:06

    YORKMcCarthy withdrawing did not solve the problem. And choosing Ryan would not solve the problem immediately. So is there a person who could do that? My sense is the next Speaker could probably ease up on a lot of the -- some of the personal resentments that go on there and have better relations with the Republicans than Boehner did.

  • 10:10:29

    REHMAdam Brandon, as president and CEO of Freedom Works, tell me what it is that the Freedom Caucus wants.

  • 10:10:41

    BRANDONWell, the first thing about the Freedom Caucus, and these are those somewhere between upper 30s, lower 40s, it's kind of an unofficial list of very fiscally conservative House members that kind of rode the Tea Party wave into office. And they have a lot of campaign promises, like do not raise -- increase the debt, there's some problems they want to fix and so their problem is they've been pretty much shut out of Congress in the last couple years.

  • 10:11:05

    BRANDONSo when they kind of banded together, their group, if they vote together, becomes extremely powerful. And one thing I just wanted to say, I've been talking with people all weekend. I think you're going to see some candidates emerge in the next couple days, people like…

  • 10:11:19

    REHMSuch as?

  • 10:11:20

    BRANDON...Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Jason Chaffetz of Utah is still considering. So there's this narrative out there that the party's in chaos, no one's willing to step up, but trust me, there are people working the phones right now and there will be plenty of people to choose from very soon.

  • 10:11:39

    REHMTell me what the objection was to McCarthy of California?

  • 10:11:47

    BRANDONI think Congressman Thomas Massey of Kentucky said it best when he's like how do we go home to these constituencies of ours that wanted Speaker Boehner gone and say, and guess what, we replaced him with this right-hand man? They also wanted to get a concrete, firm pledge and commitment that they're going to be treated differently in the rest of this Congress. They're not going to have their bills stopped and stripped.

  • 10:12:08

    BRANDONThey're not going to be penalized for silly things and stripped of committees. They want a regular return to regular process, not these artificial last second debt ceiling and last minute continuing resolution. They want to get back to that real political -- or that legislative process.

  • 10:12:24

    REHMWhat does regular process mean, Byron York? Does it come down to technicalities as the way different members see it?

  • 10:12:37

    YORKSome of it does. I mean, there's no doubt. It's writing a bill, putting it into committee, allowing amendments in the committee, then allowing amendments on the floor, giving time, you know, specific times for all this stuff to happen and not rushing things through, as Speakers occasionally do, of both parties. But the thing to remember here, remember these numbers. There are 247 Republicans in the House. It takes 218 to pass something in the House and including to elect a Speaker.

  • 10:13:08

    YORKSo take 247. If you really do have 40 Republicans who will vote as a block, they can deny the Speaker the power to pass something on Republican votes alone. On the other hand, think of that. If you've got 40 or so Republicans who are in one block, you've got 200 who are not in that block. So I mean, the 40 has to give way as well so that's going to be a very difficult situation going forward.

  • 10:13:32


  • 10:13:33

    WEBERBut the line -- excuse me. The line is not quite -- the numbers are right, as Byron put it forward, but the line is not quite as bright. Some of those 200 and some member who may well be ready to intellectually vote with some Democrats to pass something still have to go back and face their constituents in primaries. And they may not be so excited about that so the strength of the 40, who are ready to really confront, is a little more than their numbers.

  • 10:14:00

    REHMI wonder to what extent is it possible that the next Speaker could be a Democrat, Norm.

  • 10:14:10

    ORNSTEINIt's not going to happen, Diane. I think, in the end, we're not going to see a Democratic Speaker. What we might see is an end run around the leadership. And we've seen this happen already with one thing, something called discharge petition, which has been a vehicle in the rules for a very long time as an outlet if something gets blocked up, but a majority want it. It's almost never used. The pressure on members of the majority not to basically blow up the process that's been there, we now have a majority, 218, who have signed a discharge petition on the Export/Import Bank. Okay.

  • 10:14:45

    ORNSTEINNow, if you started to see that happen a little bit more -- and it's true. Vin is right, that it's not 200 against 47 because there are another hundred after the 40 who are scared to death of a primary. But you have 90 or 100 Republicans, the ones who voted on the debt ceiling with all of the Democrats, the 40 plus now who've signed this discharge petition who are willing to work with Democrats. And I would have to say, the great irony here is there is this desire for the regular order from many of the Freedom Caucus members because their amendments have been shut down in an attempt to get party discipline so that the Republicans could do it on their own.

  • 10:15:27

    ORNSTEINIf you really did have regular order, which means freedom for amendments and committees, open rules on the floor which would potentially bring chaos, but you're going to have to allow Democratic amendments and you might well have that bipartisan coalition. Be careful of what you wish for. You might get it.

  • 10:15:44

    REHMAdam Brandon, what do you think?

  • 10:15:47

    BRANDONI think this is such a health process for democracy because what I'm hearing is true. There was an old way of doing business in Washington that -- enforcing party discipline. But over the last several years, my group, other groups, we've built such a strong grass roots army that members are more scared of their folks back home than they are the committee chairman and the lobbyists. This is a huge sea change in the way things are going to be done in Washington.

  • 10:16:13

    REHMHow do you see that sea change, Adam?

  • 10:16:17

    BRANDONWell, it's -- politically, it's true. We are holding everyone accountable for their votes so when you go back to your district and you preach "I'm going to be very fiscally conservative, I'm going to get this debt and deficit under control," and then you come back to Washington and you just spend, spend, spend, continuing a resolution here, when you go back to your district, we're going to make sure the activists in your district know how you voted and match up your voting record to your rhetoric.

  • 10:16:43

    REHMWhat do you think of that?

  • 10:16:44

    WEBERWell, I think that's exactly what's happening, but it doesn't get us closer to having a majority being able to pass something. It doesn't get us closer to the 60 votes necessary to get it through the assemble...

  • 10:16:53

    REHMWhat does it do? What does it do?

  • 10:16:56

    WEBERIt makes it harder to achieve compromise in the House and, you know. Look, Adam's not incorrect. If you're concerned about the debt and you're concerned about the size of the government and you're a limited government Republican, it's hard to argue with the notion that these compromises have usually compromised us in the direction of a bigger government, more spending and more debt. Not always, but over time, that's been the case.

  • 10:17:20

    WEBERBut the reality of a Democrat president that can veto something is not going to change because the activists in a member's district punish him for seeking compromise.

  • 10:17:31

    REHMAnd this lame duck president has a great deal of power right now, Byron York.

  • 10:17:37

    YORKWell, actually, that has been perhaps the root cause of a lot this discord among House Republicans, which is they have never actually figure out or agreed upon a way to oppose Barack Obama.

  • 10:17:52

    REHMByron York, chief political correspondent at The Washington Examiner. Short break here. Your calls, your emails, I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 10:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. The speakership of the House of Representatives remains in disarray. The concerns of many as to who will lead the House of Representatives in the next years, having had McCarthy step down, Ryan refusing. Just before the break we were talking about how the Republican Party has been unable to deal with a very powerful lame-duck President Barack Obama. Norm Ornstein.

  • 10:20:48

    ORNSTEINYou know, we see this anger, some of which is reflected in the Freedom Caucus and other House republicans and the presidential campaign as well. There is real frustration out of a belief that Barack Obama never should have been elected -- certainly never should have been reelected and now is, in an unprecedented fashion, flexing his muscles as a lame-duck president. There's also frustration in the House because whatever they are able to pass dies in the Senate, which is a typical phenomenon -- something Vin knows well from the time when he and Newt Gingrich and others passed things in the House and Bob Dole and the Senate couldn't act.

  • 10:21:21

    ORNSTEINAnd right now Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, who's going to be the victim of a lot of ire here, has to protect a bunch of members from blue states who are up this next time. Make one other point, Diane. We had three representatives who called themselves the young guns back in 2009: Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarty, Paul Ryan. They went out and recruited key party candidates. They promised them that, if they got in and got the majority, they could bring Barack Obama to his knees using the debt ceiling as a bludgeon and that they would slash government immediately.

  • 10:21:55

    ORNSTEINTwo of the young guns have now been gunned down by their progeny. And one, Paul Ryan, they're trying to lure him into the OK Corral. And he's not inclined to be the third victim here.

  • 10:22:06

    REHMI gather, Vin Weber, you think that Minnesota's John Kline could be an interim speaker.

  • 10:22:16

    WEBERWell, yeah, let me back up. What I don't agree with is the notion that we're going to face endless chaos here. And -- or the notion that there is only one person, Paul Ryan, who can solve it -- although he's a 20-year friend of mine, he worked for me before I was in Congress, I love him like a brother. But there are other alternatives. Adam mentioned some. One scenario that's been forward -- put forward was John Kline, chairman of the Education Committee, a friend of mine from Minnesota, who has announced that he will not seek reelection next year. So he, in essence, would be a speaker for one year. That's a little less threatening to people who don't want to make a long-term commitment to somebody that they're uncertain of.

  • 10:22:55

    WEBERBut there's going to be a solution to this, whether it's the interim speakership, one of the people Adam mentioned or somebody else who comes forward or Paul Ryan surprising a lot of people and saying he's going to do it. We're not going to be in endless chaos.

  • 10:23:08

    REHMAdam Brandon, what would you think about John Kline?

  • 10:23:14

    BRANDONWell, I think right now if there was someone I'd be more excited about, it would probably be Marsha Blackburn. She's bringing a -- she's always been good on our issue set and she's respected around the conference. Same thing, Matt Salmon's been in Congress for a little while. He's got friends across the conference. A lot of this, we talk about rules, we talk about different things but I think Byron was saying -- we were talking earlier about Barack Obama being the most powerful lame-duck president in history -- well these Freedom Caucus guys see that and they want someone who's going to start to stand up.

  • 10:23:42

    BRANDONIt's not that -- and this is, if there's one thing I say in this entire show -- it's not that Freedom Caucus members don't want to compromise. They know they have to compromise and will compromise. They just want to be really tough negotiators. And that's part of -- everything that they're doing is trying to put themselves in the strongest position to advance our issue set because when was the last time you saw House leaders and Senate leaders sitting around the table with Barack Obama? It doesn't happen. He's only vetoed about five bills. This -- he's so powerful, you have to show you're tough to force him to the negotiating table.

  • 10:24:16

    REHMDo you think that can be done, Byron?

  • 10:24:18

    YORKWell this has been the crux of the fight inside the Republican Conference. And we know the president now. I personally think that the president has overstepped his bounds on things like immigration. I just think there's no doubt about it. Congress could stop it but Congress would have to be united to stop it. And the president knows that with 41 Democrats in the Senate, he can stop anything and, failing that, with 34 he can stop it with his veto. And so a lot of Republicans said, No, we just have to fight, fight, fight. And so far the president has not given way. And this is an institutional, constitutional problem.

  • 10:24:54

    WEBERPart of the desire to fight -- and I agree that that's a big part of it -- is also a desire to have a spokesperson on the Republican side that can compete with the -- on a platform with the President of the United States. That's a traditional response of the opposition party. You can never fully replicate the ability of the president to command national attention but it is one of Paul Ryan's attractive features. He has a better platform than anybody else in the Congress because he ran for vice president. He would find that he can't compete with Barack Obama either but he probably has a bigger audience and a higher, more visible platform than anyone else.

  • 10:25:32

    REHMHere's an email from Brian in Jackson, N.H. Republicans have created a radical right they cannot control. We, as a nation, are suffering for it. Until they fix the damage they've done to their once sensible party and take the defeats, they will suffer as a result. They will be nothing but a rabble. I hope the Republican rank and file will force a reform. How destructive has this extreme right wing of the party been to the entire party, Norm?

  • 10:26:17

    ORNSTEINWell, you know, my feeling for some years has been that this has been building in a fashion that's bad for the system but also bad for the Republican Party. Tom Mann and I, in our book, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks," said that the Republicans have become an insurgent outlier party and we've taken a lot of flak for that. I think this meltdown, in a way, reflects it. One thing we have to keep in mind here, Diane, is that we've had these deadlines coming up. We can talk all we want about how, well, they'll settle it eventually, it'll -- we'll get a speaker.

  • 10:26:46

    ORNSTEINEarly November, we have the debt ceiling coming up. And that's been a key point for not just Freedom Caucus members but for others as a way of using it as a bludgeon to force what they want as compromise and it hasn't worked very well in the past. Then we have the possibility of a shutdown or multiple shutdowns on December 13.

  • 10:27:06

    REHMAnd what happened the last time Republicans shut the government down?

  • 10:27:12

    YORKWell, I think that there's a real difference among Republicans about this. They would say, to what Norm said, Well, gee it didn't hurt us too much in 2010. We won 60-plus votes in the House. We would have won the Senate except we had some bad candidates. Then came back in 2014, we kept the House and then we won the Senate with a smashing pickup, I think, of nine.

  • 10:27:31

    REHMSo go ahead and shut it down?

  • 10:27:31

    WEBERAnd we have an almost record number of governors. And we do have a record number of state legislators. This is hardly an outlying rabble. What we don't have is the presidency of the United States.

  • 10:27:42

    ORNSTEINWhat they have is mid-term elections where the turnout is a very, very different one. And that's true with state legislatures and with governors. And, you know, the shut -- but it is the case...

  • 10:27:51

    WEBERBut that doesn't make it illegitimate, Norm.

  • 10:27:53

    ORNSTEINNo. But it is the case that the shutdown in 2013 did not affect the elections in 2014. So people who want a shutdown are saying, Don't tell us it'll destroy us.

  • 10:28:03

    REHMAdam, do you want to jump in here?

  • 10:28:06

    BRANDONAbsolutely. The first thing I just want to say is being called a right-wing extremist, that hurts my feelings. That's not what we're -- I think that's a little unfair. But I -- when I look at the numbers, at the math, approaching 20 trillion in a national debt -- right now, we're paying just about 400 billion in interest on our debt. If historical averages on interest return, that number jumps to 900 billion. So if we're standing on top of the barricade screaming, This train's going off the tracks, we've got to change its course now, and then we're called extremists. It's hard for me to justify or to reconcile that together. I mean, that's what we're here to do. We're here to show down this fiscal train wreck.

  • 10:28:47

    REHMAdam, what about the possibility of someone outside the House becoming speaker?

  • 10:28:56

    BRANDONWell, I do know I was in a conversation where some people were talking about getting Bobby Jindal to come back and be speaker. I just think that might be a bridge too far and maybe ends up being a little too cute. There's plenty of people within the House right now that I think could do this job.

  • 10:29:10

    REHMWhat about that, Norm? How great a possibility is it to bring someone from the outside into the speakership?

  • 10:29:20

    ORNSTEINWell, I must say, I had to laugh at that one. Because if Bobby Jindal did for the House what he's done for Louisiana, we would be in real trouble. I don't think -- I -- it is a possibility in terms of the reality of what could happen. But I absolutely agree with Adam, there are candidates and possible candidates. Jeb Hensarling is another whose name has been mentioned in the past. I think most of the Freedom Caucus didn't want to have a speaker right now. They wanted somebody else because we've got these confrontations. And then, the next time -- and that's where an interim speaker may be attractive -- you've got a real debate, with time to come up with somebody who might fit their categorization.

  • 10:29:57


  • 10:29:57

    YORKI do think Adam said something a few minutes ago that is extremely important about the change in the House of Representatives and the incentives for members of the House. In an old system in which the speaker could dispense committee memberships, in which earmarks were passed, there were ways of going Washington and becoming part of the team here in Washington. And now, we've spoken about members being absolutely terrified of the voters. And I -- that's a very powerful argument to make. But it is going to lead to a period of chaos, until a new speaker of either party figures out how to work in this new world.

  • 10:30:40

    REHMYou said of either party. Is there any possibility a Democrat could be elected as House Speaker. Norm?

  • 10:30:50

    ORNSTEINI think it's extremely unlikely, Diane. Because in the end, even though we could well have a situation on the floor where you don't get to 218, as Byron was saying, and that could go on for a little while. But I...

  • 10:31:02

    REHMWhat's a little while?

  • 10:31:04

    ORNSTEINIt could be weeks. But I don't think any of these Republicans, in the end, will decide that they would switch their support over to a Democrat as speaker. A lot of them might vote for more discharge petitions. But a Democratic speaker is a bridge too far.

  • 10:31:20

    WEBEROne of the reasons it's -- I think it would be unlikely in any circumstance, one of the reasons it's almost impossible under these circumstances is there aren't a block of conservative Democrats anymore. If this were the 1980s, you might way, Well, we've got 30, 40 boll weevil Democrats as we called them in the South. They kind of vote with the Republicans anyway. Maybe we can put something together with them. Still a long shot but we could try that. But there aren't many conservative Democrats left.

  • 10:31:48


  • 10:31:49

    BRANDONIn talking -- to build on what Byron was saying, this is significant. Without the earmarks -- and remember that this is a constituency that, if you bring earmarks home, they're going to punish you. There's actually a constituency that doesn't want stuff. They want the government to do less. So also campaign funding -- if you look at these House Freedom Caucus members, one thing they all have in common: they have all been outspend in their races, all of them. Yes, they need money for their campaigns but you could go from the extreme of a Dave Brat in Virginia outspent 40 to 1. But most of these candidates have only had half if a third of the money of their opponents.

  • 10:32:24

    BRANDONSo they know, the reason they're elected is based on support from the grassroots. And if they lose that support from the grassroots, they lose their political base. And that, to me, is very exciting for our democracy.

  • 10:32:35

    YORKAnd one thing John Boehner was fantastically good at was raising money. Eric Cantor was extremely good at it before he lost to the aforementioned Dave Brat.

  • 10:32:43

    REHMAnd is that part of the reason Paul Ryan does not want the job, because he'd have to be traveling, he'd have to be raising money, leaving his family behind?

  • 10:32:56

    ORNSTEINAnd that's what John Boehner was doing almost constantly. And I do think the family issues matter here. I also thing, you know, remember, we had this attempt with Boehner to bring up a privilege motion on the floor to vacate the speakership. That's something that we have not seen in over 100 years. It's not from the same party. But the same thing was going to happen with Kevin McCarthy and it may happen with the next speaker.

  • 10:33:18

    ORNSTEINI would add, Diane, you know, in a point that Adam made, I did a program last week with John Pudner, who ran Dave Brat's campaign, on campaign finance reform. We actually have a new coalition developing, with Freedom Caucus members and Democrats who've been reformers in the past, rebelling against this big money in politics because you've got a grassroots attempt to get small donors in.

  • 10:33:38

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, to Ann Arbor, Mich. You're on the air, John.

  • 10:33:55

    JOHNDiane, thank you very much for taking my comment. The withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy from the speaker's race creates an opportunity for moderates on both sides that they ought to take advantage of. Those representatives concerned about the dysfunctional partisanship in our government could do a great service by pushing for a better and more-inclusive system for choosing the next speaker that would allow for legitimate and meaningful input on the part of the minority caucus in this process.

  • 10:34:32

    WEBERWell, that's sort of what we've been talking about the last few minutes, the possibility that you could have maybe a fusion speakership. I think it's highly, highly unlikely. The polarization in the Congress is real between the two parties. That's -- there's no question about that. But I'm of the view, Norm may not agree with me because he -- I read the book that he and Tom wrote. This is not just a Washington problem. This represents something going on in the country as whole. At the end of the day, the House of Representatives is what its name implies, it is a representative institution.

  • 10:35:09

    REHMAnd is it also reflective -- that is, this situation -- of what's going on in the presidential race?

  • 10:35:18

    WEBERWell, sure. And as Adam has pointed out, it's what's happening with activists, not in Washington but back in members of Congress' districts. Look at Donald Trump continuing to lead. I don't think he's going to be the Republican nominee -- I don't think, although he could -- but he's representing -- he is not a conservative ideologue. He's barely a Republican and he's leading in the polls. Why? Because he says repeatedly that Washington is broken, these people are incompetent. And he's rallying folks at the grassroots level to that very negative vision of government.

  • 10:35:52

    REHMAdam, how do you feel about Donald Trump?

  • 10:35:55

    BRANDONOh, I'm not particularly a big fan of Donald Trump for a lot of those reasons that were just said.

  • 10:35:58

    REHMWho is your candidate?

  • 10:36:02

    BRANDONI don't have a candidate and that's a very fortunate position. We actually are focusing our institution on supporting House Freedom Caucus members. But when I look at people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, we had a huge hand in helping those folks get elected. So it's kind of fun to watch the presidential race because a lot of the folks who are running are running on our issue set.

  • 10:36:21

    BRANDONBut one thing I want to bring up about -- we're talking about all this dysfunction in Congress -- one piece of legislation that I think is going to move this year -- and it's going to move bipartisan and I think it's going to move because of these House Freedom Caucus members and I know it's one of the president's priorities -- is reforming our criminal justice system, everything from mandatory minimums to civil asset forfeiture. Where there are areas we can work together, we will work together. It's just when it comes to these fiscal issues that are very important to us, that's when we're going to have to man the barricades and be the toughest negotiators on the block.

  • 10:36:53

    YORKI think one thing to add to what the Freedom Caucus people want or what they've said they want is they basically want to weaken the office of speaker of the House. If you listen to Jim Jordan, who's the head of the Freedom Caucus, on Fox News Sunday yesterday, he basically laid out a bunch of demands, saying that the speaker has too much power to exercise over a group like his. And they want the next speaker to agree to lessen the power of the speaker's office.

  • 10:37:24

    REHMAll right. We'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about lessening the powers of the speaker and take your questions, comments. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMWelcome back. We're talking about Speakership for the House of Representatives. It's still way up in the air. No really strong candidates have yet come forward, though Paul Ryan, I gather, is being almost begged on bended knee. Here's a question many listeners are asking about, Adam. It's about the Hastert Rule. What do you think about doing away with that?

  • 10:40:41

    BRANDONWhen you listen to Republicans campaign, it always sounds like we campaign on the exact same issues, getting spending under control, getting a handle on debt and deficit, reigning in regulations. So, we could all unify around that and you could keep the Hastert Rule. What I'm asking is that the Republicans that get to Washington, but do not behave in the ways that match their rhetoric, start matching up their rhetoric, their campaign rhetoric to their voting records.

  • 10:41:04

    REHMWhat would the Hastert Rule do and why is it important, in your view?

  • 10:41:12

    BRANDONWell, it's important to try and keep -- I mean, I am all for party unity if party unity is going in the right direction. And what the House Freedom Caucus is trying to force, and now there's this block that's big, that's 40, I'm hoping after the next election we can grow that block to closer to 50, 55 members. And then be able to help push the direction of the policy for the conference. So, the Hastert Rule, basically, is you should not be passing major pieces of legislation by abandoning your party to try and bring in members of the others.

  • 10:41:41

    BRANDONAnd especially in the House of Representatives, I think that's a very good rule. And if you as a leader in the party cannot do that, you probably shouldn't be leading the party.

  • 10:41:50

    REHMHow would you feel about Paul Ryan as House Speaker?

  • 10:41:56

    BRANDONPaul Ryan, to this point, has kind of failed to win over the House Freedom Caucus members, and I'm gonna stay in close consultation with those folks. But one other thing we just started talking about, I think, is so critical to this issue, is philosophically, Freedom Caucus members, myself included, we are so philosophically opposed to the greater centralization of power. Whether that is centralization into the Speaker or centralization of power into the imperial Presidencies we've seen develop under both parties.

  • 10:42:25

    BRANDONAnd one thing I'm always worried about is when you centralize power, powerful people do things like declare wars. Declare wars on poverty, declare wars on drugs, declare wars on Iraq, and these wars never seem to work out. I'm a big believer in freedom and individual liberty, and I believe that's what the House Freedom Caucus is fighting for.

  • 10:42:42

    WEBERI understand what Adam's saying there, and I agree with a good deal of it. But there is a bit of a contradiction in the position of the Freedom Caucus on that issue. On the one hand, yes, they don't want an imperial speaker. In fact, as Byron pointed out, they want to weaken the Speakership rather considerably. But the Hastert Rule discussion we just saw would, if it were institutionalized, strengthen the Republican Caucus. Now, I'm a Republican. I suppose I should like that.

  • 10:43:11

    WEBERBut that's at the expense of everybody that gets elected as a Democrat. Because they have no role in it anymore. So, we're talking about centralizing and strengthening the power of the party, but not the leader of the party. You know, I get it, but it is a little bit of a contradiction. If you really want to decentralize power and allow democracy to work, you wouldn't decide you're going to institutionalize a rule that essentially says, the minority party has no voice in this institution.

  • 10:43:44


  • 10:43:45

    BRANDONWhat I'm thinking about is centralizing around a set of principles and ideas. And when you have a diverse group of people verses one person with a couple of very important appropriation chairman, I think that's where you get good legislation. This is also how this body is designed. You remember, we have a Democrat in the White House, some would say we actually have a, well, I was gonna make a joke about Democrats over in the Republican majority side of the Senate. But you have these different bodies where people -- many views are going to be represented.

  • 10:44:17

    BRANDONBut I think it's better for the American republic is if the Congress actually stands for something and we do get a clash of ideas. But I want to reunify around principles and ideas and not around personalities.

  • 10:44:28

    REHMYou said, Norm, that Paul Ryan would not satisfy conservatives. Why?

  • 10:44:36

    ORNSTEINWell, I think before Paul Ryan agreed to this, if he did agree, there would be some conditions. And one condition is that we get a two year budget deal so we don't have brinksmanship right up through the Presidential election, along with the debt ceiling.

  • 10:44:49

    REHMAnd Adam, how would you feel about that?

  • 10:44:51

    BRANDONWell, one of the most terrifying things I keep hearing about is that there is a deal being brokered by Speaker Boehner and Obama that will bust the 2011 budget caps by about 100 billion dollars. Equally split between guns and butter. Well, over 10 years, that adds another trillion dollars to our deficit. So, when I start thinking about these grand deals, what they usually end up happening is, okay, okay, we'll spend more money today with promises that in 10 years, we'll cut something. I don't think that's a very mature way to go into this.

  • 10:45:21


  • 10:45:21

    YORKYou know, in kind of a bigger picture, I do think what's going on in the House and what's going on in the Presidential race are actually showing some ways in which certainly the Republican establishment, the Republican leaders, are out of touch with voters. If you look at Trump on one side and Paul Ryan on the other, extremely different on a number of things in which the Republican elites may not be in touch with the country as a whole. More immigration, old age entitlements, and raising taxes, even a little bit, on the super wealthy.

  • 10:45:57

    YORKThese are areas in which Ryan is kind of out of touch with a large number, a large number of Republican voters. And I think you're seeing that represented inside the House, as well. But it is part of a much bigger picture that includes a Presidential election.

  • 10:46:15

    REHMAll right, let's go to Buffalo, New York. Rip, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:21

    RIPHello, good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:46:24


  • 10:46:25

    RIPI wonder, how many moderate Republicans are, these days, thinking back to the time that Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and seemed to me that he was really extending a hand, really making an effort to let it be known that he wanted to work with a large center coalition of both parties to get things done for the American people, for everybody. It's understood that liberals to the extreme left and conservatives to the extreme right may not feel very satisfied, but once again, those are the extremes.

  • 10:47:05

    RIPI wonder how many Republicans near the center are somehow regretting that they didn't kind of take that opportunity, to see it as a missed opportunity to work with the administration in getting things done.

  • 10:47:22


  • 10:47:23

    ORNSTEINWell, I joked the other day if we got a caucus of the real moderates in the House, they would fit in Charlie Dent's hot tub. There are, however, probably 40 or 50 people who, in years past, we would have considered on the right end of the spectrum, who now are in the center, who are pragmatists. And I do think, Vin has a point. The blue dog, what we used to call Bol Weevil Democrats, have been reduced very substantially in number. They're down from 50 or so, when Obama took office, to probably 25. There are still 25 of them.

  • 10:47:55

    ORNSTEINThere are two or three House Republican moderates. There are pragmatists. One of the real differences here, though, and it gets back to Byron's point about the grass roots, in all the surveys, if you ask Americans, do you think we should compromise to make something happen? Or should we stand firm on principle, even if it means nothing happens. Democrats and independents go overwhelmingly for compromise. Republicans don't. And that's a difference that's not just in Congress.

  • 10:48:22

    ORNSTEINIt's a difference that permeates the country. And the difference in the Republican side between those who want to be pragmatic and those who don't is deep and it's not being healed anytime soon.

  • 10:48:33

    WEBERWell, I just have to -- I guess we're going to argue about history a little bit here. I think that the President's commitment to working with Republicans was always much more rhetorical than real. When he came into office, he turned over the writing of the first big piece of legislation, this 800 billion dollar stimulus package, to Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats, who virtually excluded Republicans from that discussion. One of the first issues that came up was cap and trade, which was so unpalatable across the country.

  • 10:49:01

    WEBERThat the Democrats themselves abandoned it. There's no attempt at compromise whatsoever. Then we shifted immediately into Obamacare, and along the way, the President shelved his own Bowles Simpson Commission Report, which had claws, but it had a framework. And it was bipartisan in nature, so the reality of this President actually reaching out and wanting to compromise was, has been overstated in my view for the last seven years. He did, admittedly, come into office saying nice words about working with Republicans, but he didn't want to give them anything.

  • 10:49:31

    ORNSTEINI just think that's a misreading of history. On the stimulus package, Dave Obey, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, immediately called in his counterpart, Jerry Lewis from California, and said, we want to work with you. Give us the things, in your party, that you would like to see in a stimulus, because the economy's flat on its back. Tell us the things that are non-starters. Lewis laughed, pointed upward, and said, I've got orders from on high, Dave. I'm sorry. We are not going to cooperate.

  • 10:49:56

    ORNSTEINThere was a conscious strategy that we know was set inaugural eve, to act like a Parliamentary minority and vote against. So, the possibilities of compromise were zero from the beginning.

  • 10:50:07


  • 10:50:08

    YORKWell, the numbers are what makes this important. I mean, the Democrats in 2008 and 2009 came in with more than 250 votes in the House. And for a short period of time, they had 60 votes in the Senate. I think it was about 135 days after, when Teddy Kennedy died, he was replaced and then Scott Brown was elected a while later. In that period, they had 60 votes. And they passed Obamacare in that time, and so I really don't think that a party that has a huge majority in the House and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, feels like it really needs to work with the other side.

  • 10:50:47


  • 10:50:48

    BRANDONLet me give you the grass roots perspective. Because I heard about these overtures from the Obama administration. Nancy Pelosi was calling our movement astro turf. There was all kinds of racial stuff being thrown at us. The only reason that we're in this movement is because the President was black. You have all kinds of this movement was corporate funded. You go through all those things that were thrown at us, all of which have been proven very much to not be true.

  • 10:51:11

    BRANDONAnd the truth, what animates this movement, is this commitment to getting our debt and deficit under control. It's hard to, sometimes you get your feelings hurt when people are calling you names and then asking you to come to the table and compromise. Because to me, compromise is you give on both sides. And every compromise that I've seen come out of Washington is we will spend more today with promises to cut tomorrow. And I will compromise any day if it's a let's cut spending today. I mean, that's where we need to start those compromises.

  • 10:51:42

    REHMAll right. It sounds to me as though what is needed is a good therapist for both Republicans and Democrats to find a way to bring this group together. Because the work of the government has got to continue. Let's go to Eastville, Virginia. James, you're on the air.

  • 10:52:11

    JAMESThank you, Diane. I think a lot of the American people are wondering, how in the world can a non-member be a Speaker of the House? That's my first question. Second question, it's kind of sad that a small group of people who are, I call them kind of fringe people, are able to take control of a process that affects everyone in America. Not just their ideals, but all of our ideals.

  • 10:52:36

    WEBERWell, first of all, the Constitution, as we discussed earlier in the program, the Constitution does not clearly specify that the Speaker must be a member.

  • 10:52:46

    REHMWhat's the wording?

  • 10:52:48


  • 10:52:48

    YORKThe House shall choose their Speaker.

  • 10:52:50

    WEBERRight. And so, it doesn't say the Speaker must be a member.

  • 10:52:52


  • 10:52:52


  • 10:52:53

    YORKAnd if you look at the history, it goes back to the British. I mean, we have a very different system. Part of the reason that we have a problem is we don't have a Parliamentary system. We have a Parliamentary Party now. But in the British House of Commons tradition, the Speaker was plucked, it could have been from the ranks of the House or from outside, but immediately eschewed all partisanship and became the leader of the entire body.

  • 10:53:15

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Sorry. Go ahead, Vin.

  • 10:53:21

    WEBERThere have been votes cast for non-members for Speaker, and those votes have been recorded properly, which sets at least a small precedent that says that you don't have to be a member in order to be the Speaker. But, the other piece of information, to go to the listener's question, is the Republican conference doesn't choose a Speaker, nor does the Democratic conference. They nominate their candidate, who then has to be elected by the whole House.

  • 10:53:47

    WEBERAnd the problem that Boehner was facing and that McCarthy was facing and others is that while they would get a majority of the Republican conference to nominate them for Speaker, enough of their own members were not going to vote for them in the full House, so that they would not get a majority of those voting.

  • 10:54:01

    REHMAll right. And to Ernesto in Durham, North Carolina. You're on the air.

  • 10:54:08

    ERNESTOHi Diane. First of all, I love you and your show. So thank you very much for your service.

  • 10:54:12

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:54:13

    ORNSTEINWe can all agree on that.

  • 10:54:15

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:54:16

    ERNESTOMy comment is related to the Republican gentleman earlier, saying that they did not lose because of the government shutdown. And clearly, this was borne out in the election. However, millions of hard working Americans did lose out. Millions of dollars were lost for businesses, our national security was put at risk, all because of a Ted Cruz tantrum. And I think that's a terrible shame. Thank you.

  • 10:54:37

    REHMAdam, what's your response?

  • 10:54:41

    BRANDONThe government shutdowns are not an uncommon thing. They may have, with the media now, kind of built up a certain mystique, but if you go back under the, you know, the glory days when Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan used to battle, you had shutdowns there, too. I am not pro-shutdown. I think shutdowns are kind of a failure in the system. But I think the reason that you're even talking about shutdowns right now is the way that the House has worked is we know right now, going forward, on November 5th, there's a debt ceiling debate.

  • 10:55:06

    BRANDONUnder the old rules, on November 4th, at 11 'o clock at night, House members will be given a bill. You pass this bill, otherwise chaos will ensue. And House would say, hey, we can't possibly just sign this bill without reading it, without trusting you. And going right to the end here. So, what they're saying is let's have like a deliberative process before we have to get to this debt ceiling debate. And that way, hopefully, you know, you pass your bill with plenty of time. It goes to the President, he vetoes it, and then you stay up all night, order in Chinese food, roll up your sleeves.

  • 10:55:35

    BRANDONRemember all those photos of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton hammering out a deal. But we're hoping to give the Republicans some leverage to get into that battle, so we could actually not just have a government run by crisis, but actually get some long term problems fixed.

  • 10:55:51

    REHMNorm Ornstein, how might a shutdown affect the 2016 Presidential race?

  • 10:55:59

    ORNSTEINI think at this point, keep in mind that the shutdown would occur in December, right before the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and the beginning of this entire process. And it's likely to give even more traction, I think, to the outsider candidates. And it will take the insider candidates and have them criticizing Washington even more. You know, the fact is, we've got people who are part of the establishment. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, who are now joining the chorus and saying, Washington is broken.

  • 10:56:29

    ORNSTEINThe more you say Washington is broken, the more a Donald Trump gains in strength.

  • 10:56:35

    REHMHow soon are we likely to have a new House Speaker, Byron York?

  • 10:56:42

    YORKI don't know. We do know that Paul Ryan has said, I'm not going to say anything this week. My sense is that we're not going to go weeks and weeks and months and months to do that, if only not to keep John Boehner as the Speaker through all that time. So, my guess is...

  • 10:56:56

    REHMAnd that is what could happen.

  • 10:56:59

    YORK...exactly. Boehner has said he will stay until there is a new Speaker of the House.

  • 10:57:03

    REHMBut he said he was going to resign his seat in the Congress at the end of October.

  • 10:57:10

    YORKHe said October 30, but he -- that was before the McCarthy meltdown, and he said he'll stay Speaker until there's a new one.

  • 10:57:17

    REHMAll right. We're out...

  • 10:57:18

    WEBERAnd as we just discussed, he can still stay as Speaker even if he does resign from the House.

  • 10:57:22

    REHMAll right, and we're out of time. Vin Weber, Byron York, Norman Ornstein, Adam Brandon. Thank you, all.

  • 10:57:31

    BRANDONThank you.

  • 10:57:31

    YORKThank you.

  • 10:57:31

    WEBERThank you.

  • 10:57:32

    ORNSTEINThank you.

  • 10:57:32

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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