With Ryan out, let’s blow up the process for selecting the next Speaker
© Greg Nash

So who’s the next victim?

Three years ago, after Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger Juan Williams: The GOP can't govern MORE (R-Ohio) had finally grown tired of being held hostage by the right-wing extremists in the Freedom Caucus, he bailed on the job. Speculation on his replacement immediately became a Washington obsession. Who would be able to win the support of both the governing wing of the Republican Party, and the ideologues on the conservative fringe? Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE emerged as the only candidate acceptable to both camps. Now, after three tumultuous years, he’s spent as well.


The temptation—it’s already begun—is to ask the same kinds of questions we asked three years ago, and for Republicans to go through the same exercise. Will a moderate win with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE’s support? Will a dark horse emerge from the depths of the Republican Caucus?

Hold on. Ask yourself a question. Is there any reason to believe that the next Speaker, elected under the same system, subject to the same rules and hamstrung by the same institutional traditions, would be any more likely to successfully fix the broken House? Or are we more likely to find ourselves in the same situation a few years down the road?

Here’s a suggestion. Rather than repeat history, let’s change the process. The Constitution doesn’t prescribe any particular way of selecting the House leadership. For that matter, the founders who wrote the Constitution had no earthly idea the nation’s capital would one day become so bitterly divided by party. And while this system worked for a long time—Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) negotiated successfully with Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) eventually found ways to compromise with Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPresident Trump’s job approval rating continues to hold steady in latest Hill.TV poll Cybersecurity for national defense: How many 'wake-up calls' does it take? Who's in control alters our opinion of how things are MORE—the electorate’s perpetual anger at incumbents in both parties suggests its time we try something new.

Here’s the reality. Savvy and thoughtful members of both parties have more in common with one another than either have with the ideologues on the far right and far left. Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats who work together to craft bipartisan policy solutions, are much more capable of finding common ground on meaty issues than Republican problem solvers are with members of the Freedom Caucus and Democratic problem solvers are with the Progressive Caucus.

But over the last 18 months, even when the Problem Solvers Caucus came up with bipartisan ideas on health care, infrastructure, immigration and border security, and gun safety, the current power structure of the House, with the Speaker hamstrung by the far right, prevented any of those proposals from being brought to a vote. Paul Ryan’s current job title may be Speaker of the House, but he is, for all practical purposes the Speaker of the Republicans. And on many days, keeping his job meant catering to the whims of the 30-plus member Freedom Caucus, which represents less than 10 percent of the entire House.

What if we tried something new? What if the next speaker had to clear a higher threshold, winning support from full 60 percent of the House, rather than just 50 percent plus one?

Had that rule been in place at the beginning of this Congress, the winning candidate would have needed not only every Republican vote, but 20 votes from the Democrats as well. And if no candidate acceptable to Freedom Caucus extremists were palatable to any Democrat, Republicans might well have reached across the aisle to find common cause with reasonable Democrats to support a more bipartisan Speaker in the mold of say, retiring Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentMidterms put GOP centrists in peril House GOP group cuts financial support for Coffman, Bishop GOP House candidate placed on leave from longtime position after sexual misconduct allegation MORE (R-Pa.).

Think of what that would have meant. The most powerful figure in the House of Representatives—the figure ultimately responsible for shaping the nation’s legislative agenda, and the meat of what’s in each bill brought to the floor—would have been beholden to not one party but both.

No one knows how previous Speakers would have governed under this alternative selection mechanism. But we can guess that John Boehner and Paul Ryan would have loved to be free of the irrational and self-destructive demands of ideologues like Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRepublicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Poll: Republicans narrowly prefer Jordan to lead House GOP MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth in Congress, attorney cries McCarthyism Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena MORE (R-N.C).. The deals that almost got done but for zealotry on the fringes, grand bargains like the one Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger Juan Williams: The GOP can't govern MORE almost worked out with the Obama White House, would now be law. Likewise, the next Democratic leader, should he or she become Speaker, will inevitably tire quickly of the chamber’s most intransient progressives.

But it need not be that way. Raising the threshold for election of the Speaker would likely mute the power of the irresponsible extremists in a hot second. And it’s about time. At a moment when so much of America is singularly frustrated with Washington’s inability to pick even the most low-hanging bipartisan fruit, the members of the House should be bold enough to change the rules.

Ryan Clancy is Chief Strategist for No Labels