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Next Speaker Faces Challenges Governing Divided House GOP Caucus

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Kevin McCarthy is officially going for it. The California congressman tweeted this afternoon that he has decided to run for speaker of the House, the position that John Boehner is leaving next month. Mccarthy wrote - and this is a quote - "let's work together to make a difference for our country."

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The job description is a tough one - unite a divided House Republican caucus, present a cohesive opposition to the Democrats and to try to pass some legislation. To talk about the way forward, we reached John McCormack, senior writer for The Weekly Standard. I asked him whether anyone can make all of those things happen, whether McCarthy or anyone else can unite House Republicans right now.

JOHN MCCORMACK: So long as there is a Democrat in the White House, I think it's going to be very hard to do. You know, you have this faction of the party that's very, very frustrated by the fact that you can't actually pass any real big conservative agenda items so long as you have a liberal Democrat occupying the White House.

SHAPIRO: Well, given that there is a sort of pragmatic caucus among the House Republicans and a sort of do-or-die caucus and that someone is going to have to lead this group, would you advise the new leader to try to win people with honey or punish the outliers? I mean what's the strategy going forward?

MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, you know, they've tried to sort of punish people in the past by things like stripping committee slots from some of these conservative caucus, whatever you want to call them. But that really hasn't had much of an effect. You know, they're playing more of an outside game with talk radio. You know, it really doesn't matter to them too much whether they hold the spot in the committee chair. They'd rather be out in the media.

So, I don't know. I don't think that really punishment - and there really isn't much to, you know, sweeten the deal with - you know, now that that earmarks are gone. The leadership is at a very difficult time, sort of using the traditional means by which the sausage used to get made in this town.

SHAPIRO: In that case, why would anyone want to be speaker of the House? Take, for example, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican from California who is seen as the likely successor to speaker John Boehner.

MCCORMACK: Well that's a great question. I think a lot of people would say that it's the worst job in Washington. You really can't please anyone doing this job. So I would like to know. I mean, maybe he thinks that he actually has more of a rapport with these conservative members. He has - he was instrumental in getting them elected. He really played a big role back in 2010 in building this majority, so maybe he thinks, on a personal level, that he can connect with them more. I think that he's really going to have a difficult time no matter who is in that job. It's just very difficult to appeal to that faction of the party that always thinks that, you know, there's nothing that a government shutdown can't accomplish and you just need to be tougher and hold the line, and eventually you'll make president Obama buckle.

SHAPIRO: When you say there's nothing a government shutdown can't accomplish, you mean if you want to defund Planned Parenthood, just shut down the government. If you want to roll back Obamacare, just shut down the government.

MCCORMACK: Exactly. And that has been sort of - there's this deep divide over tactics and the strategy and what is the realm of the possible and this, you know, epithets thrown on both sides where the leadership's called the surrender caucus by these, you know, House freedom caucus guys, these 30 to 40 to 50 members who are sort of the hardcore hardliners, you might call them.

SHAPIRO: There's been so much turmoil in Congress, especially within the Republican Party. Why should most Americans care what's happening in the speakership?

MCCORMACK: You know it's very important. I mean, this is how laws are made. And if the Congress can't get its act together, we're really not going to ever end up with any legislation. I think that Republicans need to reckon with the fact that they might not even be able to pass things with a Republican president if they can't eventually come around to some sort of consensus within their own party about what's realistic and what's not. I think the American people don't want government shutdowns. And this is kind of - this brinksmanship is where we continually end up getting to where neither side are willing to compromise.

SHAPIRO: John McCormick, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, thank you very much.

MCCORMACK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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