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When Will Boehner Start Acting Like Speaker of the Whole House?

[Guest post by Norman Ornstein:]

Jennifer Rubin, writing in The Washington Post to reflect the thinking of the right, said that John Boehner needs to win in the House, even if it is a pathetic bare 216-vote win, to send the signal to Democrats and voters that his plan is the only thing that can pass that chamber. The idea that there is any plausibility to that notion is ridiculous. Many things can pass this House—if the goal is to get votes from all of the members, not just from among the 240 Republicans, with the hope of catching a random Blue Dog or two to claim bipartisanship. Bills aimed at getting 100 Democrats and 125 Republicans, or 150 Democrats and 80 Republicans, including the Reid plan, could make it through the House with the support of the speaker. But it is clear that Boehner is afraid or unwilling to go that route. In today’s warped parliamentary environment, a Republican speaker pushing a bill that can pass but without the support of the vast majority, even of his own party members, is toast.

In his televised rebuttal to President Obama on Monday night, Boehner started by noting, correctly, that he is speaker of the whole House, not just his party. The speaker is the first officer of the United States mentioned in the Constitution. He is elected by the entire House. Of course, in practice, a speaker is chosen by his party’s caucus and is a party leader. But he is first a constitutional officer, modeled after the British speaker who actually operates as a nonpartisan. Ironically, Boehner is acting like a British parliamentary party leader, but in a system that cannot long function in divided government with a parliamentary party that reflexively votes no on everything a president or a leader of the other party proposes. Boehner, as with so many others, has regularly talked about leaders acting as adults. We have perhaps until August 1 for Boehner to act as a real speaker of the whole House, trying to pass a bill that aims at all its members, not just his own party.