Daniel Webster Challenges Boehner for Speaker

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Things got a bit more interesting in the race for Speaker of the House on Tuesday, as a new name was tossed into the ring: Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida.  (What a historically interesting name!)  With just an hour to go before the vote, Roll Call looked at the new contestant:

Webster, who is entering his third term, would not comment on his candidacy in a hallway interview with CQ Roll Call Tuesday morning.

But Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana both of whom plan to vote for a candidate other than Boehner, confirmed the news.

A member of the 2010 class, Webster has conservative credentials but is less of a flame-thrower than the two other members who plan to put themselves forward as speaker candidates: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida.

In order to force a second ballot on the floor Tuesday, the first day of the 114th Congress, Boehner will have to lose more than 28 votes.

Massie, one of the most active participants in the group of House Republicans working to secure votes for a Boehner alternative, said that as of Tuesday morning there were 17 members committed to supporting someone else.

So not only is Webster upsetting the state-by-state calculus Boehner relied upon for victory, but he’s “less of a flame-thrower” than Gohmert and Yoho.  In other words, he’s regarded as a more serious candidate with broader appeal across the Republican caucus, which means the appetite for such a candidate was strong enough to prompt him to step forward. That doesn’t bode well for the current Speaker’s re-election effort.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) discussed the new candidate with National Review:

Webster “understands that the role of any leader is to bring out the will of the group, not to impose their will on the group,” King tells National Review Online, adding that he has been discussing the idea with Webster for over two years. “I’m confident that he’s a good candidate for this job and I do not expect him at all to reject it. I expect his name will be brought forward and I think there will be votes for Daniel Webster.”

Webster was elected in 2010 with the help of Jeb Bush, who described him as “a true conservative and one of the most principled people I’ve ever met.”

Aha!  A Jeb Bush connection.  The plot thickens!  Bush is the current frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, which might not count for much with the rank and file voter at this extremely early stage, but it certainly does count for something within the Republican establishment.  An opponent who got elected with Bush’s help is not high on the list of things Speaker Boehner wanted to digest along with his lunch today.

This is how National Journal saw the race as the sun rose on Tuesday morning:

Foes of Speaker John Boehner were scrambling Tuesday morning to find enough votes to prevent his re-election, as a groundswell of opposition looked unlikely to materialize.

In the hours before the midday vote for House speaker, at least 15 Republicans had publicly suggested they would oppose keeping Boehner in the top job—well short of the 29 votes needed to force a second ballot. The actual margin needed to win will depend on who shows up on the floor. Several New York Democrats were expected to attend the funeral of ex-Gov. Mario Cuomo Tuesday, meaning fewer votes against Boehner and an easier path to victory for the Republican.

Boehner and his allies expect little more than a symbolic challenge, and they have predicted that the veteran leader will secure another term atop the House. Whether Boehner’s foes will accumulate enough votes to at least embarrass the speaker, or will simply make themselves look less relevant, remained an open question as the vote loomed.

Rep. Ted Yoho, a well-liked yet not broadly popular conservative, said he would accept the nomination. So did Rep. Louie Gohmert, a frequent critic of leadership, who late last year ran an unsuccessful campaign to chair the conservative Republican Study Committee. Neither, however, seems to have laid the groundwork for a successful leadership challenge.

As a result, Rep. Tom Cole said he expects Boehner to win the election comfortably, padded by his party’s larger majority in the House. Cole said he regards the votes against Boehner as a political stunt, particularly because the conference already voted in a closed-door election in November to reelect Boehner.

Perhaps Rep. Webster just popped that closed door open a bit.  On his Facebook page, he announced the news in a very mild-mannered way: “It appears that I will be nominated for Speaker of the House.  I am humbled and honored by the confidence many of my colleagues have placed in me.”  Depending on how things shake out this afternoon, there might be plenty of humble to go around.