10 Republicans Who Could Be Speaker
Posted at 5:08 p.m. on July 31, 2013
What does it take to be the speaker?
The ability to lead and have people follow. The talent to message and have it resonate. The willingness to use the carrot and the stick. And, most importantly, you’ve got to have the votes.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has learned it’s no easy task as he faces one mutiny after another from his fractious flock.
He’s given no indication that he plans to step down anytime soon, and there are no Republicans on the staff or member level who would venture to guess his expiration date.
But one day, Boehner will go. And on that day, if Republicans have the House, there will be a new order. Here are 10 members (plus two freshmen) who could one day be speaker.
Eric Cantor of Virginia
Cantor’s ambition for the top slot is hardly a secret, and conventional wisdom would suggest the majority leader would be next in line. Aides say Boehner and Cantor often rule the House as equals, but the Virginian knows his place.
Some wooed Cantor to challenge Boehner earlier this year, but he held off and has sought to play the role of good soldier since.
If Boehner were to retire quickly, Cantor would have built-in advantages with his own leadership operation ready to take over.
Admirers say he might be better positioned to bridge the chasm between the younger, more unruly members and the old rank and file. But Cantor’s record of corralling the conference is far from spotless — several of his initiatives have run into trouble, most notably his signature health care bill.
And if a conservative revolt ends up pushing Boehner out of the chair, would the mutineers really be satisfied with Boehner’s No. 2? Or would they demand a clean sheet at the top?
Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin
Paul D. Ryan makes everyone’s short list — and many believe that if he wants the job, he’d get it. The former vice presidential candidate known for his controversial plan to balance the budget is a prolific fundraiser who has deep respect inside the GOP conference and he has been urged over the years to run for the top job by some of his colleagues. But Ryan, a father of three young children, has said publicly he doesn’t envy the frequent travel required of leadership. And he could have other ambitions — like chairing the Ways and Means Committee or making a run of his own for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Kevin McCarthy of California
Kevin McCarthy oozes charisma and an at-ease demeanor in his role as majority whip, and in some ways the speakership might be a more natural fit for his talents. Responsible for delivering votes and anticipating what can and can’t pass on the House floor, he has cast himself as the man you wouldn’t want to cross by very virtue of his niceness. But McCarthy has been criticized for perhaps being too nice, much like Boehner has been criticized for his laid-back style. Along with the rest of the leadership team, McCarthy has had a hard time keeping the tea party contingent in line, and lawmakers might worry he isn’t prepared to twist arms as forcefully as need be.
Peter Roskam of Illinois
Peter Roskam, the chief deputy majority whip — the “listener in chief,” as he calls himself — is the congressional insiders’ insider pick for speaker. He has the intellectual horsepower to do the job, aides suggest, and respect across the conference. He was a co-author of the GOP’s “Pledge to America” project led by McCarthy, which helped usher in a wave of Republicans in 2010.
In a 2012 interview with suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald, Cantor called Roskam “a rock star.” “People like him,” Cantor said. “He’s smart, he’s savvy, he understands the policy end and how it relates to the political end.”
He is also one of the few members of leadership to run a tough race — in 2006 he beat now-Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. — with constant media attention and fundraising needs in the millions, and aides say he has an understanding of campaigns that few in the House can rival.
Jeb Hensarling of Texas
The Financial Services chairman would have a big natural advantage in a speaker’s race: Jeb Hensarling comes from Texas — and Texas currently has 24 votes in the conference.
Hensarling’s impeccable conservative pedigree includes vigorously opposing the Wall Street bailout — which Cantor and Ryan helped pass. He led the conservative Republican Study Committee and has been among the most hawkish senior members on fiscal issues for years. He’s also served leadership roles as both conference chairman and as the finance chairman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Tom Price of Georgia
Tom Price has the conservative credentials to attract a lot of support, hails from the vote-rich South and maintains an outsider’s appeal, even if he’s on the inside of most policy discussions. Like Hensarling, he opposed the Wall Street bailout and once led the Republican Study Committee. An orthopedic surgeon, he also led the Republican Policy Committee in the 112th and has wonk cred. He now serves as a senior member on Ways and Means.
In the 113th Congress, he ran for chairman of the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 position in GOP leadership, but was defeated by the more moderate Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
But Price remains in the loop. He was named vice chairman of the Budget Committee and vice chairman for policy at the NRCC.
Cory Gardner of Colorado
Party leaders have been watching this sophomore from the start. Cory Gardner was picked to serve on the transition team tasked with shepherding in the new GOP majority, giving him an “in” with senior members before he was even sworn in. He cemented those relationships heading into this Congress, when he backed mainstream, establishment-endorsed candidates for leadership.
Sensing Gardner could be a team player, Republican leaders gave him a plum assignment on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Unlike more rabble-rousing members of the 2010 class, Gardner has opted to brand himself as a staunch conservative who is still able to work well with others.
Gardner recently signaled he could have greater ambitions in the House when he declined to run for Senate in 2014. But the 38-year-old would presumably need more seasoning before landing the speakership.
James Lankford of Oklahoma
Another sophomore, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee has mastered the art of answering questions in a way that’s both informative and evasive. His baritone voice is authoritative without being intimidating. And aside from a stately demeanor, James Lankford has established himself as the kind of lawmaker who can work with Boehner and his allies one minute and members on the party’s far right the next. But he might be too low-key to be speaker. And, like Gardner, could use more seasoning.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican Conference chairwoman, has helped revive the party’s “big tent,” using her perch to promote the GOP as tech-savvy, culturally in touch and open to everyone — especially burgeoning voting bases like Latinos. And having a female speaker would be a powerful message for a party that has struggled to appeal to women.
But many privately question whether McMorris Rodgers would be interested in holding a higher office on Capitol Hill. Others say that while she might have stumbled onto the leadership team, as far as she’s concerned, she’s there to stay, and maybe do more someday, too.
Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola recently said that if his group does its job, it will get enough of its endorsed candidates into Congress that “they’ll elect one of their own for leadership.” If that ever happens, they could end up electing Raúl R. Labrador.
The Idaho Republican is part of the 2010 tea party wave that came to Washington to cut spending and shrink government, and to do so by whatever means necessary, earning the group the nickname the “Hell No Caucus.”
Peers see Labrador as a leader who’s unflappable, smart and well-spoken.
Freshmen at the Head of the Class
Two freshmen stick out in the GOP as possible speakers somewhere down the line: Ann Wagner of Missouri and Richard Hudson of North Carolina.
Aides say Wagner has the ferocious ambition to be speaker. Before she even won her seat, she was giving money to other candidates, and the freshman class chose her to represent it with leadership.
Hudson ran for the freshman post on the powerful Republican Steering Committee.
The former staffer for three of his current colleagues, Hudson has been involved in politics since he graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1996. Hudson can work the House floor with the best of them, glad-handing members like a pro.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Roskam’s role in the Pledge to America. He was a co-author. McCarthy led the project.