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If Kevin McCarthy Wins Speakership, His Challenges Will Be Immediate


Unhappy Republican lawmakers whose pressure prompted House Speaker John Boehner to resign want a voice in who replaces him. Boehner's number two wants the job. That's Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader. First, though, he has to campaign in an election one week from today. The results of that campaign may affect how, or whether, Congress functions. NPR's Sue Davis is covering this story. She's in the capital. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: So if you're running for speaker of the House, who are you trying please right now?

DAVIS: The short answer is everyone. The speaker of the House, unlike every other leader in Congress, is elected by the whole House. But first he has to get the support of his Republican colleagues. This is the ultimate inside game in politics. His constituents are his colleagues. He has one challenger for the job. It's a Republican from Florida named Daniel Webster. But it's really person-to-person contact. He spent the weekend after John Boehner announced he was going to resign literally calling of every single member of the House Republican Conference, asking them what their concerns are, what they want, what they need and what he's going to do for them.

INSKEEP: Are there different camps among the Republicans who will decide this?

DAVIS: Yes, I think the group that we spend the most time talking about is a group referred to as the House Freedom Caucus. It's a group of roughly three dozen conservatives who represent some of the most conservative districts in the country. These are the same group of people, some overlap with other lawmakers, who were really agitating for Boehner to leave. I think that they felt neglected under the Boehner era. I think they felt pushed aside. While the concede they do not have a candidate that could win the entirety of the Republican Conference or the House, they have enough members to really decide, you know, what the next speaker should say and do. And Kevin McCarthy is very attuned to that.

INSKEEP: OK, so they're a minority of the House. They're a minority even among Republicans, but they're driving this process. What do they want that is different now that Boehner is going?

DAVIS: One of the things, when you talk to these members, that they feel is that they were ignored. I think one of the things people are talking about is maybe Kevin McCarthy could open up a seat at the leadership table for one of these voices so they feel that they have a - someone inside the room. There's talk of maybe changing the way House Republicans govern themselves, the rules of the Party, to maybe decentralize power. There's even talk about maybe changing the rules of the House to take a little bit of power away from the leadership and trickle it down a little to the rank and file so they feel that they have more ability to debate, more ability to offer amendments and more ability to have a say in what's coming out of the chamber.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Those of us sitting outside this story, you're telling me that some of these lawmakers think that the House is too orderly?

DAVIS: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: And they need it to be a little less ordered? Is that what you're telling me?

DAVIS: Yeah, as you can see, this is the frustration that John Boehner had, who, I think, prided himself on actually trying to do all these things, to returning to what we call regular order, to actually trying to give the rank and file more power, and it was never enough. So pleasing them is sort of the perpetual goal of leadership. And it's always seems to be just out of reach.

INSKEEP: What will the next speaker have to get done in the next few months?

DAVIS: Oh, it's a long list. They have to fund the government. We're doing a short-term bill that's only keeping the government open till December. They're trying to get a two year budget deal with the Senate and the White House. They have to raise the debt ceiling so the nation doesn't default on its debts. We've got a highway bill to fund that is literally filling the potholes in the roads in this country. And any other number of things - we've got a cybersecurity bill, they have to fund the Pentagon - so there's no shortage of conflict. And, also, you still have these things that - hanging out there that conservatives want to push. There's still efforts to defund or repeal the president's health care law. And there's still an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, which Congress was not able to do in this round of government funding and that's issues not going to go away for conservatives.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sue Davis, thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.