Rep. Webster on Speaker's race: 'I'm in this to win'

Greg Nash

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), the soft-spoken grandfather of 11 with a famous name, is a long shot to become the next Speaker of the House.

But you’d never know it by talking to him.

“I’m working as hard as I can to win it, and I would love to win it, and I want to win it,” Webster said in an exclusive interview with The Hill on Saturday. “I’m in this to win.”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 2 Republican in leadership, is the odds-on favorite to succeed Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman Dems brace for immigration battle MORE (R-Ohio) when he resigns from Congress next month. Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is also flirting with a bid for Speaker.

But Webster thinks elevating McCarthy to Speaker would simply make him the next target of hardline conservative and do little to change the broken system in Washington — a punching bag for surging outsider GOP presidential candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

What I know is that unless we change our ways, [Congress is] going to be a drag on the Republican Party,” Webster said. “We’re not going to be able to repair our name, unless we change what we’re doing.”

Webster, who previously served as the Florida state House Speaker and Senate majority leader, has been talking about how to fix a broken Congress since he was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

He’s criticized the House’s top-down power system, instead calling for a “principle-based, member-driven Congress” — something he says he successfully implemented in Tallahassee.

“The power structure should be made up in a way so that every member gets an opportunity to play,” Webster said. “You push down the pyramid of power, spread out the base.

“And the reason you have to push down the pyramid of power is because power and principle cannot co-exist,” he continued. “It’s kind of like humility and pride. You’ve got one or the other — you can’t have both. You can’t intermingle them.”

Webster, 66, a distant relative to the great American statesman Daniel Webster, announced his candidacy for Speaker Friday on Sean Hannity’s radio show. And during the past two days, he says he’s reached out to at least 60 lawmakers as he tries to sew up support.

He wouldn’t share how many commitments he has so far, but Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has been pushing the idea of a Speaker Webster for weeks.

The Florida Republican also would not lay out his game plan for beating McCarthy, saying: “If I told my strategy, it’s kind of like giving your coordinates when somebody’s getting ready to bomb you.”

But Webster could pursue the same path he took in January when he challenged Boehner in a public vote for Speaker on the House floor. In that roll call, Webster won 12 votes, more than any other rival.

Twenty-five ultimately voted against Boehner, but it wasn’t enough to force a second ballot and prevent him from winning a third term.

After that embarrassing vote, Boehner moved quickly against Webster. The Speaker booted him and one of his backers from the influential Rules Committee, often referred to as the “Speaker’s Committee” because members from the majority party are handpicked by the Speaker.

McCarthy is favored to win the closed-door ballot for Speaker in which he needs a simple majority of the 247-member GOP conference. He has a tremendous head start: He’s raised millions in cash to help his GOP colleagues win reelection, and he has a large team of staffers who are already furiously working to lock up votes.  

But if Webster and other McCarthy rivals can secure roughly 30 GOP votes on the House floor, they could effectively force a second ballot.

In a phone conversation Saturday, one GOP lawmaker told Webster he should serve out the remainder of Boehner’s term through the end of 2016, then step aside. The idea of a “caretaker Speaker” is a far-fetched idea, but one Webster wouldn’t rule out.

“I promise I wouldn’t be a caretaker. I’d be a changemaker,” he said in the interview. “But if I could only be a changemaker for 14 months, I’d do that.”