Will the Republicans who would be speaker choose to govern?

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, laughs with retiring House Speaker John Boehner, right. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, laughs with retiring House Speaker John Boehner, right. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Gary Cameron | Reuters

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Gary Cameron | Reuters

John Boehner may have cried publicly more often than most speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, but he had no tears the day he revealed he would be stepping down from his lofty position and resigning from Congress. Republican dislike for governing got so bad it drove out the sitting speaker, who actually sang “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” when entering the press conference where he made his announcement.

Boehner, who gained his speakership due to tea party wins in 2010, found himself riding a tiger and decided to get off.

His tea party colleagues had wanted it all. So unserious about the Constitution they claim to revere, these legislators ignored the reality that compromise gave rise to our governing document and pragmatism and deal-making are required to get anything done.

Now the two men most likely to succeed Boehner exemplify the lack of interest in governing that plagued Boehner.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made an unfortunate lapse by admitting the truth about the current Benghazi investigation.

When Sean Hannity of Fox News asked McCarthy about the House GOP’s accomplishments, McCarthy pointed not to policies that improved Americans’ lives and promoted opportunity, but to politics.

Proclaimed McCarthy, “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.”

Now, of course, Benghazi was a tragedy, but it has already been investigated multiple times before the current special committee.

An extensive congressional probe by the House Intelligence Committee was released in 2014. Back then the Associated Press reported, “Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.”

As Democratic members of the current committee note, Republican members and staffers regularly issue misleading and inaccurate leaks and refuse to release transcripts of witness appearances so we can see what witnesses said. Between this unfair process and McCarthy’s bragging, it’s clear today’s select committee has a nakedly political purpose.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, McCarthy’s competitor for the speakership, has been in the news for rudely interrupting Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood and exhibiting a misleading graphic about the group’s services. Not only did it use different number ranges for different data but, as Politifact ruled, “The chart’s most prominent feature — the much larger crossed arrows — suggests a conclusion that’s flat wrong.”

Chaffetz both spread falsehoods about Planned Parenthood and seemed to have missed a very basic fact: that the group receives funds for specific services delivered, and those don’t include abortion.

Reimbursing the group is good policy, keeping women healthy, catching diseases before they become more serious and preventing unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, abortions.

Chaffetz and McCarthy, if they became speaker, would find it impossible to satisfy many GOP constituents when it comes to keeping the federal government open while funding Planned Parenthood.

According to a recent national Pew Research poll, two-thirds of Republicans want the federal budget to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, a huge contrast to the public as a whole. Sixty percent of Americans want Planned Parenthood to be funded, a view held by 83 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents.

And in a recent Hart poll, 70 percent of Mainers want the group, which provides pap smears, breast cancer screenings, birth control, and other services, to continue receiving funding.

As these potential speakers grapple with the reality that undermining Planned Parenthood is bad politics, they have to be a bit afraid of GOP voters. As Pew found, 78 percent of tea party Republicans (and 54 percent of all Republicans) are happy about Boehner’s departure, and “just 32% of Republicans approve of their party’s congressional leaders down from 41% in May and 50% in February.”

Unlike Gov. Paul LePage, who stopped working with the Maine Legislature months ago, and Kim Davis, who wouldn’t issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples, neither McCarthy nor Chaffetz can decide to just stop doing their jobs.

The House has to be involved to pass a budget and keep our credit strong. As the tea party tiger needs to be controlled, one of America’s major political parties faces a test of seriousness.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.