The Speaker of the House of Representatives is, under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, second in line for the Presidency behind the Vice President of the United States.
Therefore, who is the Speaker of the House is not an idle matter, but of crucial importance, that he or she be a mainstream, responsible public official.
The Republican Party has produced disasters in the Speakership since 1994.
First, we had Newt Gingrich, who had a scandalous private life, and was extremely confrontational in his dealings with President Bill Clinton, and yet, right wing conservatives were unhappy with him, and he resigned after two terms as Speaker, a total of four years.
Then, his theoretical successor, Bob Livingston, was forced to turn down the Speakership, due to his own private life scandals.
Then, Denny Hastert became Speaker, seemed noncontroversial, and in comparison to Gingrich and Livingston, was just that. But now, years after his decision to leave Congress after the Republicans lost control of the House in 2006, Hastert faces prosecution and is involved in a sex scandal involving when he was a high school wrestling coach 35 years ago.
And then, there was John Boehner, who lasted almost five years, but was under constant attack by the far right Tea Party Movement, and now has decided to resign at the end of October. Boehner created constant confrontations with Barack Obama, but also, at times, was cordial with limits imposed by his party’s dynamics.
Eric Cantor, who was supposed to be Boehner’s successor, unexpectedly lost his seat in a nomination fight last year, just as he had the chance to become the first Jewish Speaker of the House, and his defeat apparently delayed Boehner’s decision to leave, until now after the Pope has visited the United States, and spoken before the Congress in joint session. This event brought out the tears so common to Boehner, a devout Catholic.
Now the issue is who should succeed Boehner, two heartbeats away from the Presidency, with new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California favored even though he has only been in Congress nine years, has sponsored no important legislation, and never would have been in this position had Eric Cantor not been defeated last year.
McCarthy seems pleasant enough on a personal basis, actually more than Gingrich, Livingston, Hastert, and now Boehner, but will the right wing Tea Party movement be satisfied with him, and will he be responsible enough to conduct himself with a willingness to work with President Obama for the next year?
What if a true right wing extremist ends up as Speaker, with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a possible successor seen as a true extremist and often compared by many to David Duke, the former KKK leader, due to Scalise’s opposition to a Martin Luther King Holiday in Louisiana, one of the last states to adopt it?
America cannot tolerate a right wing extremist to be two heartbeats away from the Presidency, and it can be hoped that, under the present circumstances, Kevin McCarthy become Speaker, but somehow, although unlikely, hope that disillusionment with the Republican control of Congress leads to Democratic control of the House, as well as the Senate, to occur in the 2016 national elections.
Since the House is gerrymandered, giving the GOP control despite more total popular votes for the chamber being Democratic, this seems unlikely, but those who feel it is urgent that the next Democratic President have both chambers of Congress willing to work with him or her, must work very hard to try to elect a Congress controlled by the Democrats!