Washington – U.S. Rep. Jim Himes has a solution to the leadership crisis in the House: Republican leaders should replace the hard-to-get votes of Tea Party sympathizers with those of moderate Democrats like himself.
Himes, D-4th District, is one the few Democrats who have weighed in on GOP efforts to elect a new Speaker in the wake of John Boehner’s resignation.
Co-chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, Himes says the GOP should create a coalition with Democrats to pass legislation – and help the next candidate for House speaker fend off challenges from the most conservative members of their caucus. Those conservatives often insist on measures Democrats will block in the GOP-controlled Senate — and that sometimes even Republican senators oppose.
In a campaign e-mail, Himes acknowledged it would be tough for Democrats to work with Republicans, even if concessions were made.
“Instead of the conventional approach of throwing your drowning opponent an anvil, we’d have to toss a life preserver,” Himes said. “In the run-up to a presidential election, that would seem heretical to some.”
Himes also said it would be difficult for Republicans to co-operate with the rival party.
“A majority of members would need to accept that working with Democrats or President Obama is not treasonous,” he said.
Himes also said “my most progressive friends might object, but there’s no escaping the fact that the GOP won majority control of our national legislature in 2014.”
Of course Republicans aren’t likely to take any advice from a Democrat, said Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker.
“A Democratic voice is likely to be rejected,” he said. And any involvement by Democrats in the Speaker’s race would be “odious,” he added.
Still, Democrats and Republicans came together last week to garner enough signatures on a “discharge petition” – 218 – so lawmakers can bypass the committee process and the House leadership to call up legislation, in this case a bill that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.
The maneuver is rare, executed only five times in the past 80 years.
Bipartisanship may also be needed to avoid a default by the U.S. government on its loans. That will happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Nov. 5.
The Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 conservative Republicans sympathetic to the Tea Party, wants cuts in government services in exchange for a lifting of the debt ceiling.
But right now, the Freedom Caucus is flexing its muscle, taking credit for Boehner’s resignation — and taking down other GOP leaders considered too centrist, including former Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was considered Boehner’s logical replacement. But McCarthy took himself out of consideration last week after a pushback from members of the Freedom Caucus – and the circulation of a letter from Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who warned of “skeletons in the closet” and mentioned the resignation of a former candidate for speaker after disclosures he had had an affair.
Some Republicans, including Boehner, are pleading for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to run for the leadership job. But Ryan has been cool to the idea.
Himes said it doesn’t matter whether Ryan or anyone else is speaker . He or she will have to contend with the Freedom Caucus, whose member were willing to shut down the government rather that vote for a budget that did not defund Planned Parenthood.
Whoever becomes the next speaker will be under intense pressure to follow the conservatives’ agenda.
Himes said he sent out the email urging bipartisanship because “the only way they can run the country is to put forward legislation that appeals to Democrats. Since the GOP took control of the House in 2010, Republicans have had to compromise with Democrats to pass budgets and other key legislation. But there has been a lot of brinksmanship — and a 16-day government shutdown – before bipartisan agreements were reached.
“Let’s just cut to the finale of the opera instead of sitting through all the drama,” Himes said.
He also said he hopes Boehner will stay in Congress long enough to “take the ticking time bomb” of the debt ceiling “off the table.”
Himes is not alone in his calls to “stop the brain damage and institutionalize bi-partisanship.”
In an interview with CNN last week, Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said the next speaker “should not appease those who make unreasonable demands.”
“I’ve said for some time that in order to pass anything out of the House we need to assemble a bipartisan coalition whether it’s on the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling, we will have to assemble a bipartisan coalition,” Dent said “That’s the reality of this place.”
There are plenty of opportunities to witness whether bipartisan cooperation will replace gridlock and crisis management in Congress.
Beside the Nov. 5 deadline on the debt limit, federal highway funding runs out on Oct. 29, and the latest stop-gap spending bill expires on Dec. 11.