The level of disarray within in the U.S. House following Speaker John Boehner’s sudden resignation would be alarming under any circumstances. But the critical fiscal deadlines looming at the end of the year — for raising the debt ceiling and passing a comprehensive government spending bill — make it even more important that Republicans fill the vacancy with a leader who is committed to governing and can command respect even from those who disagree with him or her.
Finding an extraordinary leader like this won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to persuade that person to take the job, which some have dubbed a nightmare as Tea Party hard-liners have pushed an uncompromising agenda. The sudden decision on Thursday by Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, to withdraw from the race for speaker after being a front-runner underscores the difficulty of finding Boehner’s replacement.
It reflects well on the Upper Midwest that of two of the best possible candidates represent the region in Congress: Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan and Minnesota’s Rep. John Kline. Both are seasoned, pragmatic lawmakers whose commitment to conservative principles, command of complex policy issues and collegiality has won them broad respect from their colleagues. In particular, Ryan’s well-known work on his “Roadmap” budget plan, with its emphasis on deep spending and tax cuts, established his conservative bona fides with GOP hard-liners.
From a broader national interest perspective, the two also inspire confidence that they would avoid reckless strategies, such as government shutdowns or debt ceiling breaches. A willingness to put the economy in a nose-dive with those types of stunts appears to be an unfortunate litmus test for Tea Party members. The nation would be far better served with more mature leaders such as Ryan and Kline at the House’s helm.
Neither is eager to take on this daunting job. Ryan, a 45-year-old father of three, has said repeatedly that the job’s punishing travel for fundraising would keep him away from home too much. Kline, 68, is supporting Ryan for the speaker position even as other House members are pushing him to consider a short-term assignment, one that would provide steady leadership during a tumultuous period before Kline retires next year.
It should be noted that the Star Tribune Editorial Board has deep disagreements with Ryan and Kline on a number of positions, including strategies for entitlement reform, health care policy and reproductive rights. But a key strength of both is that they are willing to respectfully hear out policy differences. They’re also able to argue their own positions clearly and persuasively. These qualities would stand them in good stead with their own divided party as well as with Democrats.
The other candidates who have been front-runners in the wake of McCarthy’s pullout, such as Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster, are better known for their rhetoric than actual accomplishments. It’s fortunate Ryan and Kline are being pulled into the race to replace Boehner. Their reluctance is understandable, but the nation needs one of them to serve.