Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Rep. Dent: Paul Ryan Must Explain 'Mathematical Reality' Of Speaker Race


There just might be an end in sight to the leadership crisis in the House of Representatives. Retiring speaker, John Boehner, announced there will be elections for his replacement next week, and Paul Ryan says he is considering a run with conditions. He wants to be able to spend time with his family. He wants House rules changed so it's more difficult to oust the speaker. And he wants endorsements from the major Republican interest groups in the House called caucuses. Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent is co-chairman of one of those caucuses, the Tuesday Group, made up of moderate Republicans. He says his group is likely to support Ryan, but that's just the first hurdle.

CHARLIE DENT: The challenge is not simply getting elected speaker for Paul Ryan or for anyone else for that matter. We have to change the underlying political and governing dynamic that brought us to this point in the first place because the new speaker, if it's Paul Ryan, will have to, you know, enter into agreements on the debt ceiling, on the budget and appropriations bills and a transportation measure, all of which are going to require some level of bipartisan collaboration. And I suspect that if the speaker does that, he will likely, you know, run into some resistance from some of his members on his flank.

SHAPIRO: Well, so, as you say, next week's election is the first hurdle, but there are many hurdles to come. Do you have any sense of how Paul Ryan would help run this caucus that has been described as ungovernable?

DENT: Well, what I believe Paul will have to do is make a very strong case that - and he has very good communication skills to, you know, explain the mathematical reality of the situation under which we're living. That is there are 247 Republican votes in the House, and there are 54 Republican votes in the Senate, not 60. You know, 54 gives you a majority, but it does not necessarily give you total control all the time.

And, of course, the president's name is Barack Obama, who's a Democrat. And I believe a big part of this leadership is not only articulating a vision and a strategy, but also explaining the tactical realities that, you know, he must confront on a daily basis. For whatever reasons, that has been very difficult for our leadership to communicate to many in the rank-and-file and in the broader Republican base.

SHAPIRO: You say Paul Ryan will have to explain the mathematical reality, but in many of these members of Congress's districts, the mathematical reality is that if they join with Democrats on any vote to raise the debt ceiling or any number of other things, they'll be voted out of office. That's a tough mathematical reality too.

DENT: Well, I believe a lot of people overstate that. You know, from issues like hurricane relief, during Hurricane Sandy, for the Violence Against Women Act, we've had bipartisan votes. And I don't believe that the public or the Republican base will judge us harshly for doing our jobs and making sure the most basic and fundamental tasks of governance are met.

SHAPIRO: The key job for the speaker of the House is governing. Another important job is fundraising, and Paul Ryan says if he's speaker, he wants to spend time with his family. John Boehner, as speaker, was a prolific fundraiser. What impact would it have on the party if the new speaker does not spend that kind of time fundraising?

DENT: Paul Ryan already does dedicate a significant amount of time to helping, you know, the members raise money. He'll need to expand that, maybe not to the extent that John Boehner does. I don't think it's going to be as much of a problem as some might think.

SHAPIRO: You know, you talk about needing to manage expectations, explain mathematical reality. This sounds to me like the conversation House Republicans have been having for the last four years. How can Paul Ryan or any other speaker suddenly dramatically change the dynamic in the way that you're saying it has to be changed?

DENT: Well, Paul's a very smart guy, and that's why Paul, I believe, has not categorically said, yes, he will run for speaker. That's why he has laid down these conditions. He does not want to simply have to deal with these constant rearguard actions that Speaker Boehner had to confront. And so I think that's really what is a little bit different about this conversation, is that it's not just simply demanding what we all expect out of the speaker, but maybe the speaker has to demand a little bit what he thinks, you know, the rank-and-file should be doing.

SHAPIRO: That's Republican congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

DENT: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.