When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his retirement and resignation from his position last month, it surprised both his Party and the Washington political establishment. Now, with the House leadership vote in sudden disarray, the next steps in the succession battle are still unclear. U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) is one of three original candidates for the next House Speaker, and the conservative three-term congressman — who previously received the second-highest number of votes in the Speaker election at the beginning of the current 114th U.S. Congress — thinks he has the skills and the votes to snatch the gavel from his colleagues. Rep. Webster spoke with us today from his home in Wintergarden, FL to explain what a Webster House would look and feel like.
TOM ASHBROOK (TA): Of the three Republican Congressmen running to become Speaker of the House- Florida Representative Daniel Webster is known as a favorite of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus. In January this year he mounted an unsuccessful bid to oust Boehner. Ran himself against the speaker. Now his backers are credited with helping drive Boehner out. And Webster’s in the running again, along with Kevin McCarthy and Jason Chaffetz. Joining me now from his home in Winter Garden, Florida is Congressman Daniel Webster. Congressman, welcome to On Point.
REP. DANIEL WEBSTER (DW): Great to be on, Tom.
TA: Can you just remind us of what's coming up procedurally, in Congress, that will begin to decide the next Speaker of the House? What happens on Thursday ?
DW: Thursday, there is a vote of the Republican Conference, and there will be I assume three candidates, maybe more, and those will be each have an opportunity to be nominated, seconded and then the conference will vote.
TA: Will you be nominated and seconded?
DW: I will.
TA: You're in there with Chaffetz and Kevin McCarthy...many people are looking to your backers and giving them credit for helping John Boehner decide to go. You ran against him in January, you clearly wanted him out as Speaker of the House. Do you take credit for him going, Congressman?
DW: No, my battle is not with personalities. My battle is with the way that Congress operates. And right now, I would term the way we operate as power-based, in that a few people at the top of a pyramid of power are the ones that are controlling the agenda and all that goes on. As opposed to a principled base, which would say that every member's idea should we heard. So you push down the pyramid of power, spread out the base so every member could be heard and you take up the most important issues first, not last, not bumping against some deadline. And that's what I did in Florida when I was Speaker of the House there, we changed a power-based system into a principle-based system.
TA: If your approach had been in effect in these last years when Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and of course the House, what do you think might have emerged as legislation, as policy that has not, that did not, under Boehener?
DW: We would have had a transportation re-authoritarian and we would have had 12 appropriation bills. And that's what I had said up all along. The most important bill we pass is the appropriation bill. We've got to do that, we have to do it every year.
TA: But you don't. Congress hasn't for a long time.
DW: I know, and I plan on doing it. I had a 100 day plan by which we would get through every single appropriation. I know people get afraid of this amendment and the other amendment and the other things — no, we press on, and we do it. If we get it done, it puts all the pressure down on the Senate. But if you wait till the last minute and you look at your watch and you say, 'Whups, there's another day...'
TA: Continuing resolution.
DW: Yeah, and so, people can say, 'If you don't, you're gonna shut down government, whatever ' That wouldn't even be a question if we had done it five months ago. If we would have done our work, if we would have completed our work. Same with re-authorizations. We have a ten-month authorization CR. And then, you get to the ten month and they go, 'Well, right at the last minute, I don't think we're gonna be able to get it done, so it's two more months, and it's two months, then we do five months..." You know, that is ridiculous.
TA: If I may ask, Congressman, I mean, you're widely described as a very long shot for the Speakership. But, you've already had sort of swing weight in the conversation. But let's say you were, let's say the dark horse comes and wins. Would you shut down government over Planned Parenthood funding?
DW: No, the point is, we need to clear those things out way early. We need to be discussing these things so it's not, so when you run up against the government shutdown — we wouldn't even be there. The plan is to get those things done so we can discuss everything and send it to the Senate, then if we got all 12 bills to the Senate, the pressure is on them to either pass something, pass ours, amend ours, send us their position, conference, something.
TA: Flip it around, turn it around, put the onus on Democrats, you say. Kevin McCarthy has been high in the leadership you haven't been happy with. He was seen as kind of the presumed successor to John Boehner. But then there was this interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last Tuesday, California Congressman suggested that the taxpayer-funded committee to investigate the terror attack in Benghazi had been designed to harm the political fortunes of Hillary Clinton.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (TAPE):Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would’ve known any of that had happened had we not fought…
TA: Congressman Daniel Webster of Florida, does that exchange indicate to you that Kevin McCarthy has not got the savvy to be House Speaker?
DW: I am saddened by what was said. However, my disagreement is not with that, my disagreement is with the way the House operates. That to me is the number one problem that we have. And because of that, our numbers in January were about 11% favorability...the last one on our favorability was done Friday, and it was still 11%. We can improve that, I did in Florida. We changed our whole system to what I'm talking about. Taking our most important bills first, not meeting at night, not meeting after midnight on the last day of session.
TA: And I guess your point is this would permit the majority, the Republican majority to ultimately have more sway over outcomes in Congress?
DW: Well, no. It would allow the rank-and-file members to participate! That's the problem right now, that if you push down on the pyramid of power, then every member has an opportunity to participate. Because we're not limiting debate, we're not cutting off amendments, we're not running bills, closing bills so that nobody can offer anything to improve it. All of those things go out the door.
TA: Congressman, you're very politically savvy. I mean, you're a realist, how do you see this turning out? Who do you see as the next Speaker, McCarthy? Jason Chaffetz?
DW: Well, I'm not gonna condemn myself, I'm gonna to myself a real good shot.
TA: We'll give you a shot, but if it's not you. What's your best protection?
DW: I think right now, things are really in flux. But I don't know who the next Speaker's gonna be, but we'll see.
TA: If you're forced to vote between those two, where does your vote go?
DW: I'm not forced yet. I'm gonna plod. I'm a plodder, not a planner. To me, I plod along, I'm talking to every member I can. I'm going to go to every single caucus that's gonna ask for an opportunity to speak. I'm gonna sell this message, one way or another.