U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., made a last minute pitch to become the next speaker of the U.S. House even as U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. is the favorite to be selected later this week.
With U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announcing at the end of last month that he would step down at the end of October, Webster threw his name into the hat for another speakership bid. Earlier this year, Webster was Boehner’s main challenger, gaining 12 votes against the speaker but getting kicked off the powerful U.S. House Rules Committee after his bid failed.
Webster had two rivals also seeking the gavel: U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. But McCarthy fell up short of votes and pulled his name out of the mix while Chaffetz bowed out as rumors grew that Ryan, who had been lukewarm at first, entered into the mix. McCarthy had been the favorite to replace Bohener, but enough conservatives in the Republican caucus opposed him to deny him the speakership. But the core of that opposition was the House Freedom Caucus which had backed Webster but a majority of its members are now behind Ryan.
Despite being an underdog against Ryan, Webster sounded confident on Tuesday in an email to supporters.
“We took down Boehner,” Webster noted. “Now the vote to replace Boehner as speaker of the House is less than 36 hours away. “I'm the only conservative running, and the only person who has been fully endorsed by the Freedom Caucus. We secured a victory in getting Boehner to resign, but that is just the first step in ending Congress's capitulation to Obama and the Democrats.
“I've been backed by my conservative colleagues -- Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Thomas Massie and Rep. Steve King just to name a few -- but the support of the Freedom Caucus is not enough,” Webster added, calling on conservatives to urge their representatives to back him in the leadership vote on Wednesday.
“It's time we disrupt the business-as-usual power brokering in Washington D.C. and make sure we have a legislative process based upon principle, not upon power,” Webster insisted.
Webster has been able to count on the support of some members of the Florida delegation including U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who also challenged Boehner for the gavel earlier this year. But not all Florida Republicans are behind Webster. Last week, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., took to the cable airwaves appearing on the “The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell” to weigh in on the House elections and left no doubt he was behind Ryan.
“Through his continued ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats, including the White House, I am confident that Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Paul Ryan is the right person to lead Congress as the next speaker of the House,” Curbelo insisted on Thursday night.
As congressional redistricting continues to remain unsettled in Florida, Webster’s future remains cloudy. Under the base map used by the Legislature in a special session last month to tackle redistricting, Webster would have faced a far more Democratic district than his current one, prompting some major Democratic candidates to line up against him. Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who Webster barely beat in 2012, and state Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orlando, have already launched bids against Webster.
Webster currently represents parts of Orange and Polk counties and most of Lake County. Under the base map the Legislature is using for congressional redistricting, his new district would be far more Democratic, taking in only parts of Orange County and bringing in 150,000 voters -- more than 90,000 of them Democrats -- currently represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
Webster testified before the joint legislative committee tackling redistricting in Tallahassee last month and tore into the base map.
“The new plan disfavors incumbents,” Webster told the committee. “An affirmative vote for this plan ... is a specific intent to disfavor me as an incumbent.”
The Republican congressman even insisted the base map “makes the seat uncompetitive for anyone in my party" and was built to “eliminate an incumbent.”
Webster has been in Florida politics since 1980 when he was first elected to the state House. A staunch conservative, he served longer in the Legislature than anyone else in Florida history, leading the GOP caucus in the House before becoming the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction after the 1996 elections.
After facing term limits in 1998, Webster moved on to the Senate. While he failed in his efforts to become Senate president, he did serve as Senate majority leader. Turning his eyes to federal office once he faced term limits in the Senate, Webster blew out U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in 2010, but two years later, in a far better year for Democrats, he almost lost to Demings.
Webster’s been honored in his district and in Tallahassee with everything from a section of SR 429 to a room in the state Capitol named after him. But none of the maps advancing in the Legislature this week are helping his chances for a fourth term.
Democrats tried to recruit Demings to take on Webster in 2014 but she explored looking at county office instead. Demings announced she would run against the Republican congressman again. In 2012, Webster beat Demings 52 percent to 48 percent.
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