Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is playing a long game when it comes to a potential Speakership bid. Meanwhile, amid House GOP conference chaos the establishment-backed House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), continues to play Hamlet on his own potential bid.
Ryan has come under immense criticism from much of the conservative movement over the past few days after the political establishment pushed him last week to run to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner. When current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid fell apart last Thursday, Boehner delayed a scheduled vote to give the establishment time to rally around a replacement.
On Tuesday morning, Blackburn told Nashville talker Ralph Bristol on his WWTN radio program that the Speaker’s job is Ryan’s if he wants it. Even so, behind-the-scenes rumors on the Hill persist that she’s ready to jump in if Ryan decides against taking the job.
When Bristol asked her: “if the caucus does decide you’re the right alternative [for Speaker] … do you want the job?” Blackburn wouldn’t directly say yes—but she also wouldn’t rule it out.
“I don’t even know the answer to that question right now,” she said.
But Blackburn made clear she thinks she could handle the job.
“Are you capable [of serving as Speaker]? Could you do it, if it were offered to you?” Bristol asked.
“Of course I could do it,” she responded.
Bristol encouraged Blackburn to not be “held back by humility” in her approach to the Speakership opportunity.
“Don’t be held back by humility. Humility is a good characteristic as long as it doesn’t restrain your goals or any noble ambitions you might have,” he told Blackburn.
“I agree with that,” she said.
Bristol’s local audience listening to the interview came away with the impression Blackburn was not publicly encouraging speculation she wants to be Speaker. Reading between the lines, however, Washington insiders see the interview as an indication she wants to be considered if Ryan fails to pull the trigger on his own candidacy.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Ralph Bristol to Marsha Blackburn: Your name has been mentioned as often if not more often than anybody else’s in the last 24 hours news cycle as a possible alternative to Paul Ryan as the next Speaker of the House. If Paul Ryan doesn’t want the job, do you?
Marsha Blackburn: You know Ralph, this is one of those things I didn’t have on my to-do list. Being Speaker of the House is a really tough spot. I have told my colleagues that have called over the weekend that I would listen to them, I would talk with them, because I think by all of us talking through this issue of who’s going to lead the House, we’ll get to some answers.
And the other thing too, we’re having as a conference, I call it growing pains. It’s not that dissimilar to what we went through in the state years ago when Tennessee became a predominantly Democrat state to a Republican state and the legislators and the caucuses at the State Capitol, the General Assembly, had to figure out who they were and what direction they were heading. So, really, it’s not that dissimilar a situation or that dissimilar from what we did in Williamson County [Tennessee] 25 to 30 years ago when we were growing and building the party here but I think the conference as a whole has to answer some questions before we decide on who’s going to be the right person to lead the conference and quite frankly, I don’t know who that’s going to be.
Ralph Bristol: Let me back up one notch. If Paul Ryan does want it, is it his job, do you think?
Marsha Blackburn: I think it is. I think that Paul has the ability to step in and lead. I know that he and [his wife] Janna were going to talk about it this weekend. I am, you know, honored, that colleagues would turn to me and would say, ‘would you consider doing this?’ …because this is a very difficult time.
We’ve got to have somebody who can bring together the Tuesday group, the Republican Study Committee, and the conservative coalitions as we kind of term it, those of us… Freedom Caucus, Liberty Caucus, and Conservative Opportunity … you know…
Ralph Bristol: Some of your constituents have suggested to me that you’re too close to Boehner to serve as a viable alternative to the top-down good ol’ boys club they think has been running the House for the last few years.
Marsha Blackburn: Which is really sort of funny because I’ve never been in Boehner’s circle and anything I’ve gotten in D.C. is something I’ve earned and worked for, it’s not anything that Boehner has given me. So I find that really …it really makes me chuckle because it is just so far from the truth. ..People have their perceptions. They think and assume that they are right.
Ralph Bristol: If the caucus does decide you’re the right alternative [for Speaker] … do you want the job?
Marsha Blackburn: I don’t even know the answer to that question right now. I think that whomever is going to be the Speaker of the House is going to have to be someone who is resolute in conservative principles and is going to be able to bring this conference together to handle some of the things that the American people want.
Ralph Bristol: Are you capable [of serving as Speaker]? Could you do it, if it were offered to you?
Marsha Blackburn: Of course I could do it. I think our conference has many talented people who could do this who have led other entities and organizations and they could bring those skills to bear. Those are transferable commodities. What we have to do is look at the fact that we’re going to have to find a way to get to 218 votes on our side of the aisle, and then get the Senate to do something.
Ralph Bristol: Is Paul Ryan making people wait too long if he’s not going to give an answer this week as his spokesperson says he’s not.
Marsha Blackburn: I don’t know. I think that there is some wisdom to having the conference come to work through where they want to be and where they are on their approach to certain things. There are many deep divisions in our conference and … that’s kind of big tent growing pains.
Ralph Bristol: Is that part of the plan, to have him wait so the caucus can sort out some of the things this week and get to an alternative if his answer is no by the end of the week?
Marsha Blackburn: No, I don’t think that’s part of the plan. I think for the Ryan family it’s just doing their due diligence and working through what is their current schedule that is set for the week. This is a district work week and we all have full days and long days and busy schedules.
Ralph Bristol: Is it [the Speakership] that much bigger job than being a regular member of the House? Is it going to dramatically change your life or Paul Ryan’s life if he becomes speaker?
Marsha Blackburn: Whomever …the Speaker travels about 220 days a year …Fundraising is a part of it, indeed it is. But also for business, the nation’s business, in other parts of the country and with other members.
Ralph Bristol: Would that be ok with your family ?
Marsha Blackburn: My family isn’t keen on being away and that much travel. You know, I come home every weekend, I work my district, and the other component of that is you have to have a district that will support and agree with you not being in the district as much as a member like me, a rank and file member is out in their district. I work every weekend in my district.
Ralph Bristol: I will close with one piece of advice my father passed along to me a long time ago. He was a bridge player and he would frequently bid… I won’t say frequently…sometimes he would bid too much and he would always say ‘if you’re playing bridge and you don’t bid too much, you’re not bidding enough.’ And I think he’s right, and I’ve followed that during my life. I frequently take on things that I should not be able to do, and sometimes I fail, but when I don’t it’s a really exciting adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything
Marsha Blackburn: Well, of course, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. I think there’s also wisdom in under promising and over delivering. People will rise to the occasion.
When it comes to whomever is going to lead the Republican House, I think one of our talented members will step up and they will rise to the occasion and we will work our way through this.
Ralph Bristol: Don’t be held back by humility. Humility is a good characteristic as long as it doesn’t restrain your goals or any noble ambitions you might have.
Marsha Blackburn: I agree with that.