John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


After McCarthy’s Withdrawal, Keeping Calm About House Speaker Election

Posted on October 8, 2015
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(Originally Published in the WSJ)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy decided not to run for speaker of the House. Everybody take a deep breath. Let’s dispense with the panic.

I’m sure he has his reasons. Politics is a tough business, and people have to make their own decisions about the pressure and scrutiny that come with a high-profile position such as speaker of the House.

Paul Ryan doesn’t want the job. That’s OK. He is a self-described policy wonk who wants to reform the tax code. He is perfectly positioned as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

There are plenty of qualified people who can be speaker of the House.

John Boehner is one of them. He has said that he will stay as speaker as long as the House needs him. He might be there a while.

I worked for a “caretaker” speaker who ended up running the House for eight years. And I saw firsthand that the qualities that make a good one are not the qualities the media tend to focus on.

Being speaker of the House is more like an inside manufacturing job than an outside sales job.

You don’t have to be ideologically pure or a movement leader. (Indeed, the conservative movement tends to turn hardest on those who were once seen as ideological standard-bearers. Adherents would rather be pleasantly surprised than mildly disappointed, every time.)

You don’t have to be that great with the media or clever with sound bites.

You don’t have to be a prolific fundraiser, at least not at first. Raising money is important, but that comes with the territory with certain leadership positions.

The House is different from the White House and the Senate. Ascendancy through the leadership chain is based almost entirely on personal relationships rather than ideological cohesion.

A good House speaker is a good listener, a good planner, and a good strategic thinker.

Plenty of members could fill that role ably. Some are in the House leadership now. Some have been toiling in obscurity.

One them is sitting in the speaker’s office right now, counting down the days until he can be set free.

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