Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia’s 2nd District voted for Rep. Daniel Webster for Speaker of the House. Rigell was one of 25 Republicans to vote for someone other than Rep. Boehner, who won a third term as Speaker with 216 votes. Boehner won because there is no procedure within the party to challenge the incumbent Speaker without looking like you are trying to commit treason. In Washington, the newbies are expected to fall in line with the established, which has contributed to casting a vote for Speaker into a ceremonial exercise absent of meaningful thought.
Rigell defended his vote yesterday on the John Fredericks Show calling Webster “a viable alternative.” Rigell mentioned how Webster is well respected in the House Republican Caucus and served with distinction in the Florida legislature, but he didn’t really explain why he voted against Boehner. Fredericks didn’t press Rigell at all on why he didn’t vote for Boehner and let Rigell go on and on about jobs when the question was on the vote for Speaker. All Rigell said were nice things about Boehner and nice things about Webster and that was all. No real debate was offered.
Dave Brat of Virginia’s 7th District joined Rigell in voting for someone other than Speaker Boehner, but Brat joined no one in casting a vote for Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, including Duncan who voted for his state delegation colleague Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Cheers to the courage shown by Rigell and Brat in their votes for Speaker. It would have been nice to see Brat vote for someone more viable than a guy who couldn’t get two votes, but we admire the effort anyway. It would have been nice for the Republican Caucus to produce one challenger, then have a short but substantive and real debate and then vote for the best candidate. That did not happen at all this time. Rigell found out Webster was interested in being Speaker the morning of the vote. The parties need to end confusion like that by having a real contest put in place for Speaker.
Next time around let’s hope the Republican House Caucus can internally debate who will step up and challenge the incumbent Speaker, then run publicly with a civil debate on the difference between the two conservative visions, and then hold a real vote within the caucus before the vote on the floor so that a split doesn’t lead to a united Democratic vote putting Rep. Nancy Pelosi in charge of the majority while she is in the minority. During the short public debate constituents will be able to call their Rep. to weigh in and after the internal vote the party will have the chance to stand unified behind their choice. No hard feelings, no vengeful committee assignments, just good old debate that leads to a stronger and more conservative message.
Without setting the system up to produce a contest for Speaker then we are left with a rubber stamp ceremonial vote for something that is pretty important. No vote should be a coronation, as alternatives are an essential component of democracy. In addition to running the House, the Speaker sits in the line of succession to be president behind only the vice president. A position like that deserves a lot more than just a rubberstamp for the guy that got there.
I would like to have seen a new Speaker elected this time. Rep. John Boehner hasn’t done a very good job. There has to be someone better. If a contest was the accepted protocol then Boehner would probably have been ousted. But in Washington the protocol is don’t rock the accepted establishment’s boat, which leaves us stuck with Boehner for the unforeseeable future.