- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2015

The search is on for a caretaker speaker to lead House Republicans over the next several months, with the names of a number of senior lawmakers being floated as short-term solutions, though none was seen as the right guy to lead the House GOP for the long run.

The tenuous status of these old bulls in the conference hierarchy underscores just how much things have changed under current Speaker John A. Boehner and how much dissatisfaction there is with the Republican Party of just a decade ago.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s abrupt exit from the race spurred the search for a new temporary leader, and exposed a rift that is generational as much as it is ideological.

“You have a sizable segment of our party now who think if you’ve been here for any length of time — six or eight years — that’s too long and you’re no good,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican who’s been in Congress for 30 years and is considered one of the most conservative members — though not part of the upstart Freedom Caucus that pushed out Mr. Boehner and helped sink Mr. McCarthy’s bid for speaker. “It’s a mistake to feel that way. It’s important to have someone with experience.”

Mr. McCarthy was an odd casualty of the push for a new face.

He’s been in the House for less than a decade, and just five years ago dubbed himself one of the GOP’s hotshot “Young Guns,” along with Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan.

Now Mr. Cantor is out of the House, ousted in a primary last year, and Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin is refusing entreaties to run for speaker himself as a younger generation seeks fresher voices. Indeed, of 245 House Republicans, 135 of them arrived in just the last five years.

They have a dim view of Mr. Boehner and his leadership team, which they see as repeatedly caving in to President Obama and Democrats.

“It’s a sense of betrayal that all of us Republicans of all stripes have about our current establishment in Washington,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a three-term Kansas Republican.

They also arrived as Mr. Boehner eliminated earmarks, the items slipped into spending bills to deliver projects and other goodies to congressmen’s districts. The earmark was long viewed by watchdogs as a tool of corruption, but it was a carrot with which the leadership coaxed members to take difficult votes.

Without earmarks, members facing primary challenges in conservative districts must demonstrate ideological purity to win votes back home.

The most conservative of the lawmakers have branded themselves the Freedom Caucus and have tried to maintain a united front in pushing for a more conservative bent.

Rep. Peter T. King, a New York Republican who is considered a centrist, said the Freedom Caucus was holding the conference hostage to force the party further to the right.

“This is unprecedented to have this small group, a tiny minority, hijack the party and blackmail the House,” he said.

With the internal party dispute showing no signs of dissipating, some Republicans were calling for all sides to agree on a senior member who would fill a caretaker’s role. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, suggested the option at the closed-door conference meeting where Mr. McCarthy dropped out of the speaker race.

He said House Republicans needed someone with experience but without long-term ambitions to “create stability” in the raucous conference until after the 2016 elections.

“The next election will define our party,” he said, adding that the idea was gaining attention from colleagues.

Some of the names that were immediately mentioned by lawmakers included:

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a 19-term congressman who formerly ran the House Judiciary Committee and the House Science and Technology Committee;

Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, who is in his 18th term and serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee;

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who is in his 16th term and is chairman emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee;

Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, a seven-term congressman who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Mr. Barton said that he recognized that the conference was looking for younger leadership, noting that Mr. McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican and possible speaker candidate, have been in Congress just nine years.

“A generational change is happening,” Mr. Barton said.

It remains uncertain whether members of the Freedom Caucus would go along with the idea of a caretaker, but some newer members already rejected it.

“That’s a bad idea. An interim speaker is a caretaker, and we need to have bold ideas that advance positively our vision with a great communications strategy,” said Rep. Bill Flores, a third-term Florida Republican. “We need to rethink the rules around here and the processes, and it takes a new person to do that, not a caretaker.”

For now, Mr. Boehner remains speaker until the House can agree on a successor.

“The speaker will continue serving until another candidate can get 218 votes. In the foreseeable future I don’t see any candidate from either party being able to get 218 votes, so I expect the speaker to continue serving,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Florida Republican. “I hope he stays as long as possible.”

Even more intriguing is that Mr. Boehner could stay even after his retirement from his House seat is effective. There is no requirement that the speaker be a sitting member.

“He will continue serving as speaker until the House elects a new speaker. That’s the way the rules work,” Mr. Curbelo said.

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