Government

Candidates coy about choice for House Speaker

US Congressman Dave Loebsack, the Democratic incumbent, Republican candidate Dr. Christopher Peters, and Libertarian candidate Mark Strauss participate in a forum for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District candidated hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County at the Coralville Public Library on Monday, October 8, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
US Congressman Dave Loebsack, the Democratic incumbent, Republican candidate Dr. Christopher Peters, and Libertarian candidate Mark Strauss participate in a forum for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District candidated hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County at the Coralville Public Library on Monday, October 8, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The first order of business for the United States House in 2019 will be electing a new speaker.

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election has set off speculation about who will succeed him. With control of the House up for grabs in the Nov. 6 election, there is no shortage of names being tossed around of Democrats and Republicans who are or might be interested in the leadership post.

However, Eastern Iowa House candidates are being coy about who they might support. That might be because they don’t know or they could be hedging their bets.

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle thinks there’s more to it than a “return on vote calculus.”

For Democrats State Rep. Abby Finkenauer and Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack in the 1st and 2nd Districts, respectively, Hagle speculated their reluctance to commit to supporting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might “suggest some concern that coming out in favor of Pelosi will hurt them with Iowa voters given how Republicans use Pelosi being speaker again as a point of criticism.”

In fact, Blum’s ads highlight Finkenauer’s fundraising with the San Francisco liberal, a lightning rod for conservative criticism, who has contributed at least $14,000 to the Democratic challenger, according to campaign finance reports.

When asked if she will support Pelosi for speaker, Finkenauer deflects by saying it’s only reporters who ask.

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Nobody, including Pelosi, has her vote “until I get there and I’m sitting there and have a conversation with whoever the heck wants the job,” Finkenauer said.

Like Finkenauer, Loebsack won’t commit to backing Pelosi, 78. The six-term Iowa City Democrat made clear in a candidate forum Oct. 8 that he’s “open-minded” and is willing to consider other — younger — colleagues for the post.

“There is a whole crop of younger folks I’ve gotten to know over the years and I’m completely open-minded about this,” he said. “Clearly right now, I think you’re seeing within the Democratic Party a lot of folks who would like to see some change. It would be generational for sure.”

Because his seat is safe, Loebsack can play that game, Hagle said.

And, he added, “as a member of Congress, (Loebsack) might have more inside information on how serious the younger crop of Democrats is about mounting a challenge to Pelosi and he might want to stay on the good side of them.”

First and 2nd District Republicans are similarly ambiguous about their preference for speaker.

Blum famously — or infamously — did not vote for Speaker John Boehner in 2015 despite Boehner’s support on the campaign trail. He defended his vote as a sign of his independence. Democrats criticized the vote, saying it would cost Blum and the 1st District the support needed to get favorable funding and legislation.

Blum hasn’t committed to supporting fellow Freedom Caucus member Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. He hopes there is a handful of people vying for speaker.

“I like bold,” Blum said. “We’ll see who the lineup is and who I think has the most to offer, who will take us in the direction I think we should go.

“We have to keep the majority first,” he added.

If they keep the majority, but lose seats, Blum and other GOP representative might be looking for someone less bold, but can work well with others to hold the caucus together on close votes, Hagle said.

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“Jordan is liked for fighting hard on certain issues, but that doesn’t endear him to some and he would likely have a harder time keeping a smaller majority together to get legislation passed,” Hagle said. “He’s probably somewhat polarizing to those aware of him, so that may be a reason why Blum wouldn’t commit to him in advance.”

In the 2nd District, Hagle said that as a challenger, Peters “can be a little more open about the speaker position … and can run on the notion of wanting a better functioning Congress.”

“I’m going to be looking for someone who really makes a credible argument that they will restore regular order in the House,” Peters said. “If you’re not part of leadership, even if you’re in the majority, you have very little control over what bills come, or what amendments get added.

Even if the GOP maintains control, as a freshman “unless I have somebody there looking out to restore order, I will have very little voice until I get a little more seniority.”

Depending on the outcome of the Nov. 6 election, 2nd District Libertarian Mark Strauss might throw his hat into the ring. Ideally, the House Democrats and Republicans will be divided 217-217 with him as the deciding vote, Straus said.

If that’s the case, Strauss said, “I’m going to run for speaker and I’ll tell everybody that every viable bill gets a vote.”

He’s not optimistic. Regardless of the midterm results, “the party in charge will make the rules and you will have gridlock. (The parties) haven’t worked together since the 1990s and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Get ready for more polarization and more fighting among themselves.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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