Governing the U.S. House of Representatives

Elephant statue painted red, white and blue
Elephant statue painted red, white and blue

With the resignation of Speaker John Boehner and the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy as a candidate to replace him, it is clear that there is a structural issue in how the House of Representatives is organized (or not).

There are 247 Republicans in the House, of whom roughly 40 are members of a "Freedom Caucus," as the Tea Party inspired members now call themselves. To elect a Speaker requires 217 votes. Thus the Freedom Caucus has, or appears to have, a veto on who gets to be Speaker.

But the demands of this Caucus in terms of policy are so extreme that they would not carry a majority of the House Republicans, let alone a majority of the House, let alone a majority of the American people. Everybody outside the Freedom Caucus thinks that the Federal Government should have a budget, without a shut-down, and that the government should pay its bills and honor its debts.

There is a road through this mess. That road is a coalition in the House of Representatives consisting of the majority of the House Republicans and a majority of House Democrats. They would have to agree on how committees would be structured, and about the broad lines of policy. It would scramble American politics by instituting a coalition in America's most partisan part of the governing structure. It would be a jarring revolution.

The alternative would be to pull in some senior Republican leader from outside to be Speaker on a temporary basis. Does anyone feature George Bush, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney in this role? But even if there were such a patch, the person would still face the same fundamental divide in the Republican Party.

What we have seen is that the Republican Party isn't one party, it's two parties.