Facing determined opposition from the Freedom Caucus (or, as we prefer, the Oozlum Caucus), Kevin McCarthy suddenly withdrew from the contest to replace John Boehner. Because there is no obvious candidate who could command the support of the Freedom Caucus and more mainstream Republicans, House Republicans have been left in a state of chaos.
The problem is one of arithmetic. The office of Speaker is one on which both Republicans and Democrats must vote, and in order to reach a majority, 218 votes are required. Since Republicans hold 247 seats that would ordinarily not be a problem. But if one subtracts the 40 or so votes commanded by the Freedom Caucus, the remaining votes fall short of the 218 mark. The solution is as obvious as it is radical (and politically distasteful). The majority of House Republicans must identify the member whom they believe best qualified to serve as Speaker and, if necessary obtain sufficient votes from Democrats to replace the defections by members of the Oozlum caucus and reach the 218 level.
Remarkably, one member of the House has had the courage to suggest such a course, at least as a possible alternative. As reported by The Washington Post, Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania described the problem and a possible solution:
Dent, interviewed live on CNN, said McCarthy withdrew because although he could have won a majority of the Republican Conference, he would not have had 218 votes on the House floor. Dent said it might be necessary to form a “bipartisan coalition” with Democrats to elect the next speaker and avoid having to appease the “rejectionist wing” of his own party, which he said has made the House ungovernable by insisting on “unreasonable demands.”
We do not underestimate the difficulty of carrying out Dent’s suggestion. It would generate passionate opposition and is at best a long-shot. If it could be carried off, however, it could have a permanently liberating effect, reducing the power of the Freedom Caucus to something more commensurate with their actual number of votes. If so, Boehner and McCarthy could give their party no finer legacy.