116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Even dreams that never come true sometimes lead to proposals that do. So may it be with my dream for selecting Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mike Huckabee said when he inspected planes before flying: “I'm not just interested in the left wing or the right wing, I'd kind of like for both of them to be there.”
Well, so would I. And after the last election an increasing number of Republicans and Democrats think so as well. By definition, a successful democracy requires more than one ruling political party. It requires bipartisanship, time and effort at legislating, with compatibility, mutual respect, and willingness to compromise.
Unfortunately, it is the U.S. House of Representatives’ traditions and norms that have created the battlefield. The Constitution imposes no such constraints. Article I, Section 2, merely states, “The House … shall choose their Speaker ….”
The Speaker need not be a majority party member – nor even a member of the House (though no outsiders have been elected, some received votes).
Republicans need to rebuild their party. (As the Washington Post headlined, “Republicans engage in full-scale brawl after disappointing midterm elections.”) Democrats want Republicans they can work with. Voters are disgusted, asking both parties to start helping working people, not just major donors.
The opportunity before the House is the selection of their next Speaker.
Yes, I know the House Republicans have pre-selected Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But he may not have the support of a House majority when the vote is taken January 3.
Rather than leave McCarthy with the need to yield power to his no-compromises, election-denying, party-without-a-platform, MAGA, extremist, insurrectionist House members, how about the ultimate bipartisanship?
Each party can have its leadership. And tradition would dictate a Speaker from the House majority party. But shouldn’t the Speaker be the choice of both major parties?
There is precedent. In 1910 dissatisfied Republicans joined Democrats in stripping Speaker Joseph Cannon of some powers. In 1997 Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich feared dissenting Republicans would vote with Democrats, making Democrat Dick Gephardt Speaker. In Nancy Pelosi’s 2021 election as Speaker two votes went to neither her nor McCarthy, and three members voted “present.”
On a more positive note, since 2017 the House “Problem Solvers Caucus,” with 58 members (29 from each party), has been successfully seeking to foster bipartisan cooperation on key policy issues.
Wouldn’t it be worth a similar try to build a majority from both parties that could agree on a Republican Speaker who would serve all House Members? A Speaker indebted only to them, with no need for concessions to those Members more interested in winning a war with the “enemy” party than legislating for the American people.
Like Huckabee’s airplane, the House needs wise adults on left and right. With or without a bipartisan Speaker, hopefully this dream of one may inspire other proposals for converting the current mudball fight into a legislative body of problem solvers worthy of the name – and the U.S. House.
Nicholas Johnson is the author of “Columns of Democracy.” firstname.lastname@example.org