Would-be Speaker could lose his House seat next year

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) is running full-steam ahead in his long-shot bid for Speaker, while looming redistricting plans in his state threaten his congressional seat.

Webster’s reelection chances in his current district suffered a severe blow Oct. 9 when a circuit court judge give tentative approval to a redistricting proposal favoring Democrats in his area.

{mosads}While the map plans have yet to be finalized, it raises the prospect that if successful in his leadership bid, Webster could assume the Speaker’s gavel without having solid reelection prospects.

“I think he could get a lot done in 15 months even if he was drawn out of his district,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a vocal supporter of Webster, told The Hill.  

Massie said Webster could help bring about “amazing” things in a year, but that uncertainty regarding his seat has “not been an issue with any of us that are supporting him.”

“It’s never even come up once,” Massie said, listing half a dozen other lawmakers. 

Some have suggested the uncertainty surrounding Webster’s seat is a selling point for those looking for a candidate to step in until new leadership elections happen in January 2017. 

“I’ve heard it as a point of consideration for those who are looking for a caretaker seeker,” said Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), a strong backer of Webster, who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.

“I’m not suggesting that we need a caretaker or not,” Jolly added, saying the redistricting wasn’t a factor in his support of Webster and the map battle could go on for several more years.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had recommended a map drawn by the Fair Districts coalition, putting Webster’s slightly leaning Republican district heavily favoring Democrats. The state Supreme Court still needs to approve the map.  

The state Supreme Court on Friday approved a state House request to delay oral arguments about the remedial map by a week to Nov. 10, when lawyers for the state House, Senate and the coalition of voters’ groups and Democratic-leaning activists will argue their case before the justices. 

The Florida Supreme Court in July threw out congressional maps drawn by the state’s GOP-led legislature for violating a state anti-gerrymandering amendment passed in 2010, concluding that the redistricting process and resulting maps favored Republicans and incumbents.  

Some Florida Republican lawmakers caution the issue is far from settled. And a separate legal challenge, filed by Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) in federal court looking at provisions of the Voting Rights Act, could also throw the map into limbo. 

Much of Webster’s argument for becoming the next Speaker has included parallels to his reputation in the Florida legislature, when in 1996 he became the first Republican Speaker in more than a century. He has argued for flattening out power in his current bid in a more even-handed approach. 

Lewis last week rejected the legislature’s third attempt to redraw the congressional districts and gave tentative approval to a map that could potentially unseat another Republican, Carlos Curbelo, and a Democrat, Gwen Graham. 

Webster, whose office declined to comment for this story, could run in another district depending on what congressional map is eventually adopted. And, the Speaker does not have to be an elected member of Congress. 

The conservative House Freedom Caucus endorsed Webster on the eve of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) abruptly dropping out of the Speaker race before recess last week. 

McCarthy’s sudden exit from the race opened up the potential for a slew of Republicans to pursue the position should Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stand by his decision to not run. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the only other Republican besides Webster running for Speaker before McCarthy dropped out, has signaled he would end his own bid if Ryan jumped in.  

Jolly urged his Republican colleagues in a letter circulated this week to not pressure Ryan, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, into running for Speaker. 

“I think there are lot of people meeting Dan for the first time, and I’m encouraged by that,” Jolly told The Hill when asked about his letter. 

Another Republican, Rep. Steve King (Iowa), sent a letter this week urging support for Webster. 

Massie, who is not in the Freedom Caucus himself, said of Webster, “I think he has more support than anybody else in the race right now,” pointing to his support in and outside the group. 

“We need a Speaker who gets us back to business,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) said, adding that the focus shouldn’t be on some high-profile person who might become a potential “target” for those across the aisle.  

“Anybody who steps into this position right now will be in a tough position,” Yoho acknowledged.  

“I’ll be happy to sit down with Paul Ryan,” added Yoho, a member of the Freedom Caucus, adding they would have tough questions for any potential Speaker candidate.  

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a founding member of the caucus, was more blunt in an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week: “You don’t get to win just because you’re Paul Ryan.” 

But Webster and other candidates face a tall order in a race that could feature Ryan, a popular congressman who is strongly backed by many Republicans for Speaker. 

“It may be that they’re ready for some stability, somebody’s who going to be there for the long haul in what is turning out to be a highly contentious election,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

Regardless of how the race shakes out, friends and foes acknowledge that the soft-spoken Webster would represent a contrast with the more combative current and potential Speakers. 

“He’s a very calm, kind of quiet, almost, individual. He’s not a press hog, he’s not a flame-flower in his dialogue. He’s very measured, almost shy,” MacManus said.  

If Republicans are looking for someone to calm things down, he might fit the bill.  

“Dan seems to think even with redistricting he’s confident about coming back,” Yoho said.

The potential Speaker’s message to colleagues?  

“I’ll be back.”

Tags Corrine Brown Jason Chaffetz Marco Rubio Paul Ryan Ted Yoho

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