What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

With McCarthy stepping back, who can step up to lead the House?

Judy Woodruff speaks to former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., and Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post about what prompted Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from the speaker’s race and who might step up to unify the Republican party.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We take a deeper look now at today's surprise shakeup on Capitol Hill with former Republican House member Vin Weber of Minnesota and Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis.

    Gentlemen, welcome.

    Mike DeBonis, to you first.

    Anything to add about why Kevin McCarthy pulled out?

  • MIKE DEBONIS, The Washington Post:

    Really, right now, you know, it was a matter of pure politics within the House Republican Conference.

    It became clear that his path to the speakership was going to be very narrow, and that his ascending to that post would do little, if anything, to solve the internal problems and the divides within the conference. He said it himself at his press conference earlier today, when he stood before the microphones and said, we need a fresh face.

    The question is — he was the fresh face of the Republican Party for so many years, for at least the last five years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • MIKE DEBONIS:

    He was one of the young guns in a class with people like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan.

    Eric Cantor, of course, was kicked unceremoniously out of Congress last year by a Tea Party challenger.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • MIKE DEBONIS:

    And now people are looking to Paul Ryan. So, who is going to step up in this next generation? That's really what we're looking at now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I mean, it is the case, Vin Weber , he was the fresh face. Something changed, though, just in the last 12, 24 hours.

    FORMER REP. FORMER REP. VIN WEBER (R) Minnesota: Well, something changed.

    I think the main thing, as we just talked about, is the fact that they didn't — Kevin would have won the nomination of our caucus. And it's important for our viewers to understand. That's what we were doing. We were nominating a candidate. We were not choosing a speaker.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    The question was, when he then proceeded to the full House of Representatives, would he get the majority that was necessary to be elected speaker? He wasn't sure he could get to the majority to be elected speaker.

    And, most important, there was no plan B. If he failed to get the majority, who would happen on the next ballot? Would they go outside the Congress? Would they try to form a coalition with the Democrats? There was no plan B, and so it would have resulted in chaos, so they decided to put everything off.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But it was an issue with the most conservative members, is that right, the so-called Freedom Caucus. Those were the votes that he needed that were not sure.

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    Yes, that's true. And the only addition I would put on that is, we really have redefined what it means to be conservative.

    There are not big ideological, issue-oriented differences between those folks and the — quote, unquote — "establishment." We have defined conservative to be a non-ideological term. It's about strategy, it's about tactics. Are we willing to shut down the government, are we going to confront the president more directly? That's very different.

    You think about battles in the past that divided parties, the Democrats over civil war and the Vietnam War in the '70s, the Republicans fighting about tax cuts and supply-side economics. Those were big philosophical issues. There is no big philosophical divide in the Republican Party right now.

    It's frustration at their inability to change things with Barack Obama in the White House.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Mike DeBonis, how do they get around that?

    You mentioned the speaker, Speaker John Boehner, is trying to get Paul Ryan to run. How do they get around it, if it's now about strategy and not about philosophy?

  • MIKE DEBONIS:

    Well, right now, they're really looking at this Hail Mary pass and hoping that Paul Ryan does agree, under immense pressure from all sides of his party, to be the guy to come in and bring everybody together and move forward.

    If Paul Ryan sticks by his previous refusal, citing his young family, citing his desire to stay as Ways and Means chairman, it's really hard to see what happens next. You know, one of the possibilities is that, you know, John Boehner is basically forced to stay in the post because there is nobody willing to replace him.

    There has been talk of some sort of caretaker speaker, a member who perhaps is retiring or is in his twilight — his or her twilight years of their service in Congress who can come in and do that. But I think that the same people who were not excited about Kevin McCarthy aren't going to be excited someone like a John Kline or a Tom Cole or somebody like that coming in and playing that role.

    So, it's really hard to see how this ends.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Vin Weber, can you imagine something like that, somebody from the outside coming in?

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    It's highly unlikely. This has really never happened.

    The notion of my good friend and fellow Minnesotan John Kline is a little different. He's a sitting member of Congress. He's announced he's not going to run again, and so it would allow us to have a respected man in the speaker's chair for the next year or so, while they sorted all of this out.

    I still think it's unlikely. I think that they are going to find somebody to be elected speaker, but it's an unusual time. Paul Ryan seems to be the one person that could unite the conference. I know him very well. He's been a close friend for over 20 years. He doesn't want to do it, and he doesn't want to do it for all of the best reasons, Judy.

    He wants to be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and do tax reform and trade and health care reform and all sorts of other issues that he cares about. And in his mind, it's giving up something very, very important. And the people that appeal to him based on his own self-interest and ambitions are singing the wrong tune for Paul Ryan. That's not why he would do this.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He would do it why?

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    He would do it if he is convinced that the institution of the House of Representatives, the Republican Party and ultimately the country are hurting by this chaos in the House and he's the only person that can mend the fences.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just for a moment, Vin Weber, broaden this out. What does this say about the health and the future of your party, the Republican Party?

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    Well, the party is in a certain degree of chaos right now and there is a similarly, in my view anyway, between what we see in the presidential nominating process and what we see going on in the House of Representatives today.

    And I do think it extends even beyond the Republican Party to the broader electorate. People are angry. They're not happy with the status quo. They want a change, but they're not sure what that change should be. That's what I see in the House of Representatives. It's what I see in the Donald Trump candidacy, who has all sorts of people that are angry and want to move in a different direction.

    But Trump does not identify — this is no disrespect to him, but he doesn't identify any clear direction for the country. He's just got a series of attitudes. That reflects where the country is right now. And let me make one more point. At the moment, that's not good for Republicans. It's chaos in the House and unpredictability in our presidential race.

    But the notion that the country is mad about the status quo and the direction we're headed ultimately isn't good for the Democrats either. They have the White House. They are the status quo.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it certainly is a day that's left everybody stunned.

  • FORMER REP. VIN WEBER:

    Yes. There's not many days that really are unprecedented, but, at least in our lifetimes, this is pretty unprecedented.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Vin Weber , former member of Congress, thank you for joining us.

    Mike DeBonis from The Washington Post, we thank you both.

  • MIKE DEBONIS:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest