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World & Nation

What we know (and don’t know) about the race for House speaker

Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in a 2014 file photo.

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

California's Kevin McCarthy is out. What now?

At least a dozen lawmakers have been mentioned as possible replacement candidates.

At least 12 names have been floated as possible replacements for Speaker John Boehner, after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) announced suddenly Thursday that he was dropping out of the race.

Few of the candidates being mentioned have broad appeal among the severely divided majority.

They include Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.)

Paul Ryan is the pick of the moment. Just one problem.

He doesn’t want to do it.

The Wisconsin lawmaker spoke with Boehner on Thursday, but Ryan has repeatedly said he’s not interested in the post. Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is an easy favorite among rank-and-file Republicans, partly because his conservative credentials haven’t been fully tested by the messy challenges of leadership or the time-consuming job of fundraising.

Ryan released a statement Thursday saying he was disappointed in McCarthy’s decision to drop out, and that he is “the best person to lead the House.”

“While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate,” Ryan added. But by Friday, Ryan was said to be seriously considering the job.

Should Ryan take over the gavel, he’d be inheriting the same dysfunction fueled by a rebellious conservative minority that forced Boehner to announce his early retirement just two weeks ago and then doomed McCarthy’s bid to replace him. And that might not be a desirable resume-builder for someone with presidential ambition and the potential to mount a future bid.

The leadership vacuum is throwing the speaker's election timeline into doubt.

Boehner had said he plans to step down Oct. 30. With no clear front-runner now in the race for speaker, here are some key dates and how some could change:

Oct. 8 – Republicans held a closed-door candidates forum to begin the nomination election process. This is where McCarthy announced he was dropping his candidacy, a stunning decision that left some of his colleagues in tears. Leaders then abruptly canceled the nomination election.

Oct. 19 – The earliest House Republicans can expect to hold the next nominating election, since the House is on recess next week.

Oct. 29 – The previously scheduled date for a floor vote on a House speaker. This date has been thrown into doubt with the latest power struggle. Elections for majority leader, McCarthy’s current job, and other lower positions were initially scheduled for this date but postponed when it became clear McCarthy would face a challenger.

Oct. 30 – The date Boehner had previously said he’d step down. Boehner is now saying he will remain in office until a replacement is selected, which he said Friday he still hopes will be by the end of the month.

Nov. 5 – Deadline to raise the debt limit before the federal government risks default, according to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.

Dec. 11 – Government funding expires. President Obama has said he won't sign another stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, like the one passed earlier this month.

How could this all shake out?

It’s still unclear who will emerge as a front-runner for speaker in the next few days. Any candidate would need to receive 218 votes from their fellow members to be elected.

There’s no real deadline for a new speaker to be selected, since Boehner has said he’ll stay in office until his successor is picked.

With a potentially ugly leadership fight looming, some have called for Boehner’s replacement to be an interim leader who could try to temporarily stabilize the party. But others say a permanent speaker should be chosen soon to move the party ahead quickly before the 2016 election.

Some of the Republicans mentioned as possible caretaker candidates, however unlikely, include Rep. John Kline, a retiring Minnesotan, and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is close to Boehner.

There has been so much angst this week about who will replace Boehner that some have even suggested picking someone who’s not in the House of Representatives as speaker.

According to the Constitution, the speaker does not have to serve in the House. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) each received one vote for the job in January’s election.

Who led the challenge to McCarthy’s candidacy?

Leaders of the influential House Freedom Caucus, a conservative bloc of Republican members, helped force out Boehner and opposed McCarthy’s run for speaker. The group, which includes members who voted against Boehner earlier this year in one of the biggest defections from an incumbent in a century, includes about 40 members, but they can potentially swing more than 50 votes. The group threw its support behind Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida late Wednesday, but several of its members said they wouldn’t necessarily stick with their endorsement and are considering all options as the leadership race continues.

Webster won 12 votes when he challenged Boehner for speaker in January.

What does the speaker of the House do and why do we need one?

Aside from setting the rules of the House of Representatives, the speaker of the House is also third in line for the presidency, after the vice president. Day to day, the speaker is responsible for leading the chamber and managing negotiations with party leaders and the White House on key legislation.

A speaker also has prerogative over important committees — including the intelligence panel and select committees such as the Benghazi investigation that got McCarthy into trouble. The speaker coordinates with the national party as well, selecting the speaker for the weekly address and working with others to choose a State of the Union response candidate.

Despite the fact that the speakership comes with a great deal of power and some nice perks -- a cushy office, prime seating for the State of the Union, and more budget for staff -- few Republicans have admitted they want the job.

If the Republicans don’t find a consensus leader soon, it could stall progress on other congressional action, including an upcoming Nov. 5 deadline to raise the debt limit, budget negotiations and the renewal of the federal highway program. In December, the federal government could risk another shutdown if Congress fails to approve funding to keep agencies open.

What’s next for Kevin McCarthy?

McCarthy has said he’d like to remain as House majority leader, and rules allow him to remain through the congressional session. That dashes hopes of several other Republican lawmakers who had hoped to move up the leadership ladder or make a run for the job.


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