Congress prepares for new House speaker


Katy Klopfenstein/Iowa State Daily

A timeline of the events leading up to the election of the next Speaker of the House. 

Madison Tuttle

As House Speaker John Boehner prepares for his departure from Congress, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appears set in stone to be the next speaker of the House.

The Republican conference met Wednesday to pick its nominee, and Ryan was chosen by 200 members.

Mack Shelley and James McCormick, professors of political science, both agree that Boehner’s successor will have a tough job.

According to the latest Gallup poll, Congress’ approval rating has sunk to just 13 percent.

The low rating may be partially because Congress does so little, Shelley said. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of 30 to 40 conservative Republicans, is seen as the main element behind Boehner’s ousting.

Shelley said Boehner lost support within the Freedom Caucus because he was “playing footsie” with the Democrats, which Shelley said led to Boehner’s loss of support and eventual resignation.

While the Freedom Caucus is characterized by its staunch conservatism, the majority of members have given their support to Ryan, who some see as more moderate, Shelley and McCormick said.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., received 43 votes in the GOP conference meeting. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., received one vote, while House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was originally expected to be speaker, received one vote.

If he is elected, Ryan will have some challenges as the leader of a Congress characterized by very little legislating and low public approval, but he does have a few things already in his favor.

Ryan has the backing of the conservative party without being a “Ted Cruz,” Shelley said. He also said Ryan has enough of a moderate position that he should be able to go across the aisle and work with the Democrats.

Shelley added that Ryan is a “young gun” in the media and has a chance to be a fresh face that rebrands Congress. He is also in a Congress where the majority of members are fellow Republicans.

However, Shelley said he sees the possibility of a more Democrat-heavy Congress after the 2016 election. This could spell trouble for Ryan, Shelley said, because the more moderate-Republicans would be the first ones out, leaving only the Freedom Caucus members in Congress.

Gerrymandering is one of the main reasons why it is hard to highjack the most conservative members of congress, Shelley said. When regions of a state are stratified into more rural and urban districts, the conservatives tend to keep their rural backing, while the more urban areas easily fluctuate between Republican and Democratic candidates, depending on the election cycle.

Shelley said while this scenario might be unlikely because of historically low voter turnout rates for Democrats, it could still be a challenge Ryan would have to face.

Even if the numbers of Republicans and Democrats in Congress change after 2016, Ryan is focused on actively moving policy through the House and the Senate, McCormick said.

McCormick added that Ryan will have “a calvary” of supporters behind him, not only to secure his spot as speaker but also to push for policy.

The formal vote for speaker will take place Thursday.