How can a Speaker lead the unleadable?
© Francis Rivera

It has been a long time coming in some ways. We've all heard the expression about "herding cats," but Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Ohio) has been herding hummingbirds: all flying in differing directions and a few flocking together when it seems like a beneficial thing to do. Many would agree — even Democrats — that Boehner is a good man. However, when given the impossible task of leading the unleadable, what is he to do?

The Freedom Caucus — or as some call them, the "Hell No Caucus," wanted his head and he laid it at their feet.

The question remains even after Boehner's announced departure: How can you lead the unleadable?

This is not exclusively a Republican problem. After the Democrats got their heads handed to them in 2010, I was invited to a birthday party for a liberal member from out West. There were a lot of Progressive Caucus members there and they were gloating openly about the pasting the Blue Dogs had just received in the November elections. I was shocked — hadn't they figured out that if the conservative-to-moderate Democrats didn't win these seats, Republicans would? And, indeed the Republicans had, and so these progressives did not have the gavel anymore and in 2015 don't seem any closer to getting it back unless Republicans self-destruct. And hey — they might just do that.


It did not seem to matter to the left and it does not seem to matter to the right. They want purity and now they have turmoil. That is because even when Boehner goes softly into the night, to play out the next career he will have, the problems of governing remain. Even today, Republican Senate offices were inundated with calls that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should be next! Well, folks, that won't happen and it should not happen. Adults need to step up and lead. They need to step into the breach and, even if it means taking fire, lead this great institution.

The late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) told me about being approached once by Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who wanted Murtha to run for Speaker. This was back in the days when Gingrich was nipping at then-House Minority Leader Bob Michel's (R-Ill.) heels. According to Murtha, Gingrich would deliver a large number of Republicans and if Murtha could get enough moderate-to-conservative Democrats, that would make him Speaker of the House.

Murtha thought it over and then said "no." I asked him why, and he said simply: "Congress can't work like that." Who would be the chairman, what would be the structure? The questions go on and on.

We are there again. If House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has his way and becomes Speaker, he has the same problems Boehner had. If one of the more conservative challengers become Speaker, they have to deal with the "Chamber of Commerce Republicans," who really do want to govern and are tired of being pushed around and challenged by the Tea Party and other purists.

And if you really think this doesn't matter, look at the stock market on Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average was down over 300 points ending the day with a 1.7 percent loss and down nearly 10 percent for the year.

This is not a game. This is not "king of the hill." Real people lose real money. Real business people have to make real decisions. Will we have a continuing resolution beyond Dec. 11? Is there a chance for the tax extenders bill to pass or to become permanent? How about that highway bill or cyber legislation? What about Congress regaining its footing?

Klink is a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and is currently senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.