Speaker Trump? He will need to secure an absolute majority in the House
But another issue is whether Mr. Trump may care to be speaker of the House when the new Congress begins on Jan. 3, 2023.
Some of that conjecture started to churn again over the weekend when the former president held a campaign-style rally in Wellington, Ohio.
This all got stirred up recently when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., appeared to suggest during an interview on Fox that the former president wanted to be speaker, should Republicans claim control of the House in the 2022 midterms. McCarthy’s aides immediately mopped this up. They said the former president wants McCarthy to preside as speaker if the GOP flips the House next year.
But whether or not President Trump could emerge as the 55th speaker of the House raises a very interesting question: could it actually happen?
There were suggestions that the former president may try to seek a seat in Congress, representing Palm Beach, Florida, home to Mar-a-Lago. In an interview with Wayne Allyn Root, Trump argued that becoming speaker “might be better.” He described the possibility as “very interesting.”
The problem with that is former President Trump is registered to vote in the 21st Congressional District of Florida, currently held by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla. The district favors Democrats by eight points. Frankel vanquished her GOP opponent, Laura Loomer, by 20 points. The former president even lost to President Biden on his home turf, 58% to 41%.
But there’s nothing in the Constitution that says House members must reside in the districts they represent. Heading into 2022, Republicans are hoping to flip the seat currently held by moderate, Blue Dog Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. Murphy took a pass on challenging Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for his seat. Republicans would love to win the seat of retiring Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., who is now running for governor.
But the plight of a freshman Republican congressman could cramp former President Trump’s style. As a House neophyte, Trump would likely discover himself relegated to cramped quarters in House outposts, with tiny offices on the upper floors of the Cannon or Longworth House Office Buildings. These outposts are Congressional Siberia. A far cry from the commodious trappings of the Oval Office or Trump Tower.
House members don’t get any special dispensation in seniority or special perquisites – even if they are a former president.
Moreover, it’s rare for any former president to return to public life as a House member or senator.
President John Quincy Adams is the only former president to serve in the House. Adams was a House member for 18 years after his time in the White House. He actually died in what was then the Speaker’s Office just off the House floor, now named after the late Rep. Lindy Boggs, D-La.
President Andrew Johnson became a senator after leaving the presidency, serving among the same members who nearly convicted him in an impeachment trial. But Johnson fell ill and died shortly after serving in the Senate.
However, former President Trump wouldn’t even have to fiddle with being elected to Congress and camping out on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building across from the Capitol if he really wanted to become speaker of the House – and an outright majority of the House also wanted Speaker Trump.
The Constitution is silent when it comes to the qualifications of the speaker. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution simply states the following: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.”
The speaker is the first government official listed in the Constitution, long before the president. The concept of a “Senate Majority Leader” never entered the congressional vocabulary until the early 20th century. So, the speaker is a pretty big deal.
And, because the Constitution is silent on how the House elects its speaker, it’s up to the House to pick the speaker the way it sees fit.
That’s why some lawmakers have floated the possibility over the years of electing a speaker who was not a member of the institution.
In other words, if you’re former President Trump, why bother with running against Lois Frankel when you could leapfrog into the speaker’s suite?
Members have voted for various non-House members over the years. Among those scoring votes: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., former Comptroller of the Currency David Walker and retired Gen. Colin Powell.
Some House conservatives flirted with the idea of running a non-House member several years ago when they tried to bounce former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The same conversation emerged in hushed tones after Boehner announced, mid-Congress, that he was retiring. That was before Republicans convinced Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to enter the fray. One name that popped up a couple of times was the late columnist Charles Krauthammer.
But much of that was just idle prattle. Many lawmakers were reluctant to go with an outsider because they probably couldn’t prevail in a speaker’s race and it would set a bad precedent. The House has never tapped an “outsider” as speaker, despite the loophole that permits the body to tap a non-member.
So, we know the goal of Kevin McCarthy to become speaker. But nonetheless, is such a pie-in-the-sky scenario even plausible for former President Trump?
The first hurdle is that Republicans must win the House majority in the 2022 midterms. That’s not a tall order. Republicans likely only have to flip a handful of seats to take control in January, 2023.
But another issue looms for Trump or any candidate for speaker: the House has long required that the speaker attain an absolute majority of members casting ballots. In other words, if the House is at 435 members and all cast ballots, 218 is the magic number to win. The speaker doesn’t win based on who gets the most votes. It has to be an outright majority.
And therein lies the rub.
McCarthy didn’t become speaker after Boehner stepped aside in 2015 because it was believed he would fall a few votes shy of that absolute majority. There were mild questions in 2019 and this past January as to whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could wrangle the votes, despite some defections. That never proved to be a problem for Pelosi.
But for Trump?
While some Republicans may clamor for a “Speaker Trump,” others would cringe. Think of the 10 House GOPers who voted to impeach him after the Capitol riot. Consider those who may admire the former president but would worry about setting a new precedent, electing a speaker who wasn’t a member of the House.
And, there are some Republicans who may embrace Trump publicly. But privately, just wish he would disappear.
Trump may still have good standing among many Republicans. But electing him as speaker of the House is a different enterprise.
To be clear, much of this is just political spit balling. But as we always say on Capitol Hill, it’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math.
And that’s why it’s not a stretch to see that the former president could struggle to secure an absolute majority of the House if his name was placed in nomination to become speaker.