October 5, 2023
Some House Republicans want the former president to be their new boss. There are just two problems with this plan: It’s crazy, and it’s not allowed.
(Fox News / YouTube)
Kevin McCarthy’s speakership ended as it began—in chaos. Unprepared to build coalitions, unwilling to stand firm against the crazies in his own caucus, and, ultimately, unable to count votes at the moment when vote counting mattered most, the California Republican was deposed on Tuesday amid a cacophony of threats, insults, accusations, and whining.
So how did House Republicans propose to address the most serious leadership crisis they have experienced since their ill-conceived attempt to remove Bill Clinton blew up a quarter century ago on scandal-plagued House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his hapless successor, adulterous Louisiana Republican Robert Livingston?
As of Thursday morning, two people—House majority leader Steve Scalise and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan—have declared their candidacy for the speakership. But some House Republicans are pushing an even more chaotic prospect: Speaker of the House Donald Trump.
Within hours of the House’s 216-210 vote to vacate McCarthy’s speakership, Texas Republican Troy Nehls declared, “This week, when the US House of Representatives reconvenes, my first order of business will be to nominate Donald J Trump for speaker of the US House of Representatives. President Trump, the greatest president of my lifetime, has a proven record of putting America first and will make the House great again.”
Even by the unusually high levels of political obsequiousness that are observed when Republican members of Congress start talking about Trump, Nehls’s announcement stood out by blending desperate hints of tragedy and farce. So, of course, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene decided to outdo him, posting a picture on Wednesday of Trump wearing an outsize “Make America Great Again” cap and wielding the House gavel. “This is my choice for speaker of the House!” announced Greene.
Other House Republicans jumped into the “Trump for speaker” clown car, and by Tuesday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity was reporting, “Sources telling me at this hour some House Republicans have been in contact with and have started an effort to draft former president Donald Trump to be the next Speaker, and I have been told that President Trump might be open to helping the Republican Party, at least in the short term, if necessary.”
Trump dubbed the prospect “interesting.”
“Lots of people have been calling me about speaker, all I can say is we’ll do whatever is best for the country and for the Republican Party,” Trump said Wednesday morning. Pressed to clarify whether he might actually serve as speaker for the remainder of the 118th Congress, Trump said he was “totally focused” on his 2024 presidential bid. But then he added, “If I can help them during the process, I’ll do it.”
Was Trump saying he’d take a temporary speakership? Maybe. Maybe not.
It didn’t matter to Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Somewhere in the word salad that was served up by the former president, Ramaswamy—who has urged House Republicans to ask themselves, “Is chaos really such a bad thing?”—heard what he wanted to hear. Of the prospect that Trump might be given the gavel and control of the House, Ramaswamy declared on Wednesday, “This isn’t crazy. We need to shake things up in there.”
Actually, it is crazy, for a variety of reasons. But one reason is particularly worthy of consideration.
While it’s true that someone who is not a member of the House can serve as speaker, Trump is currently barred from holding the position. Who says? The House Republican Conference.
According to the Conference Rules of the 118th Congress, “If a member of Elected Republican Leadership…publicly announces his or her intention to seek other elected office in Federal, state, or local government, that Member shall resign from such leadership position.”
Trump is an announced presidential candidate. So he is precluded by his own party’s rule from serving as speaker.
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But that’s not the only barrier. The caucus rules also state: “A member of the Republican Leadership shall step aside if indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed.”
Trump faces 91 indictments, the vast majority of which check the “two or more years imprisonment” box.
So Trump isn’t just blocked from assuming the speakership—he’s doubly blocked.
The fact that a cabal of GOP representatives was so eager to pay homage to the former president that it didn’t even bother to check the party’s own rules won’t shock regular observers of the Republican-controlled House. But it does provide a sobering reminder of the extent to which elected Republicans have sacrificed their own judgment to the cult of Trumpism.
Don’t be surprised if there are proposals to rewrite the rules. It wouldn’t be the first time Republicans went to extreme lengths to accommodate Trump. This is, after all, the party that failed to adopt a 2020 platform because the former president didn’t want one.
Anyone in their right mind will tell you that abandoning Republican rules that bar indicted Republicans from serving in House leadership in order to clear hurdles for a prospective speaker who faces charges in multiple jurisdictions crosses the line even for a Trumped-up GOP.
Then again, there is plentiful evidence to suggest that House Republicans are not currently in their right mind.
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John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.