As John Boehner wraps up the final weeks of his tenure as speaker of the House, two major candidates appear to be emerging as his successor. The first, Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), has an understandable burden to carry and expectation to fill — as the last remaining member of a leadership team that has seen conservatives throw both Boehner and former majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) out of office, why should conservatives or Republicans believe he is our best bet to lead a House Republican majority to take the fight for conservatism directly to the Left?
Yet his main opponent, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), raises at least as many questions as McCarthy does. So should conservatives support either candidate?
To start with McCarthy: For the past five years, the House Republican leadership has served as the getaway-car drivers for America’s well-connected class as it has used access to our nation’s bipartisan levers of power to enrich itself. While Americans feel the pain of an exploding national debt, runaway-immigration failures, higher health-care premiums, and rapidly increasing food prices, Washington has worried about the priorities of the Ruling Class — passing cronyist patent-reform bills, extending tax loopholes, and mocking the notion of fighting on Obamacare, housing reform, or real tax reform.
What has McCarthy done to fight this? Almost nothing, although he can plausibly claim to only have been the No. 3 and recently No. 2 person at the table.
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McCarthy’s legislative record before joining Republican leadership is sparse, as he rose to power so quickly, but he did little to distinguish himself as a fighter of the status quo of farm and highway earmarking that plagued the Bush-era GOP. His lack of a policy record is likely not only the result of timing, however. He has earned a reputation as somebody far more interested in politics than in policy. His recent gaffe on the Benghazi hearings may by itself be disqualifying. These concerns should give conservatives great pause as we ask who is the leader willing and able to make a sacrifice similar to the one Representative Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made, sacrificing personal power in order to achieve historic policy victory.
Chaffetz is McCarthy’s primary opponent in the House at the moment. As a Republican from Utah, he has a generally conservative voting record. There is, however, plenty of reason for caution.
#share#Most concerning, Chaffetz, as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, vindictively removed conservative Representative Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) from his committee, on behalf of outgoing speaker Boehner, as retribution for Meadows’s vote against giving President Obama enhanced executive authority to pass trade agreements. Ironically, Chaffetz only had the opportunity to exact retribution on Meadows because Speaker Boehner elevated him above conservative leader Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) who had greater support on the Committee than Chaffetz at the start of the year.
Chaffetz is also responsible for the complete bungling by House Republicans of the recent Planned Parenthood hearing. By setting absurd restrictions on questioning to focus on financial issues, Chaffetz missed the opportunity to make the case to the American people for defunding an organization that has grossly violated the public trust. The case against Planned Parenthood is not about financial waste, fraud, and abuse. It is about an organization that casually laughs about selling baby body parts for profit.
Further, his policy record should cause conservatives serious concern. In 2012, Chaffetz paved the way for the House to pass legislation, pushed by Senators Schumer, Lieberman, Collins, and Alexander, that greatly expanded President Obama’s unilateral authority to appoint executive-branch nominations. He has also been a leading supporter of an Internet sales tax, patent reform, and the farm-and-food-stamp bill — all top priorities of corporate lobbyists. At a time when we need to remedy the lack of pushing back on the Obama administration, Chaffetz’s history gives us great pause.
#related#The House of Representatives has a unique opportunity to set a new course more than a year ahead of the 2016 elections, but only if conservatives demand it. It requires leadership that will fight for an agenda that shows how conservative solutions can make life better for all Americans, not an agenda that works for the well-connected who attend political fundraisers. Advancing this agenda will require a willingness to fight; changes to the rules of the House to spread power throughout the conference; conservatives throughout House leadership — including in the majority-leader position and among congressional committee chairmen; and a clear vision of what direction a speaker wants to steer the House. If the prospective speaker is unable to commit both in word and deed to making these changes, conservatives must be willing to withhold their votes and deny a recalcitrant speaker candidate the 218 votes necessary to be elected.
The withholding of votes prior to obtaining conservative changes is virtually the only leverage conservatives have at this point, and so they must use it.
The Republican conference appears ready to vote on its choice for speaker as early as this Thursday. Both current candidates have questions they need to answer. There is still room and time for other candidates to enter the race. Members of the House need to get conservative changes implemented before or at the same time as committing to any candidate for House speaker.