You might not recall the late Rep. Charlie Rose (D-NC) or former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY).
You would certainly remember them if they became Speaker of the House.
It wasn’t long ago there was a political scenario where Rose and Reynolds climbed to the Speakership. It didn’t happen. But it looked like a reasonable bet at the time.
What upended the routes of Rose and Reynolds to the Speaker’s suite?
Too many nonlinear, unconnected events.
Kind of like a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia spawning a F5 tornado in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
A pinprick of a phenomenon, culminating in an unforeseen, consequential conclusion later.
Politics is full of those who were “supposed to be.” There was a time in the early 1990s when many thought Rose might succeed House Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA).
Foley lost re-election in 1994. That may have been Rose’s opening. But Republicans also wrested control of the House from Democrats for the first time in four decades that year. Rose challenged then House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) for his post. Gephardt handily defeated Rose 150-50.
There was a time in the mid-2000s when many Congressional handicappers placed good money on Tom Reynolds to become Speaker of the House. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) faced ethics and criminal issues. A scandal about a member sending inappropriate text messages to House pages helped torpedo then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) – years before we learned Hastert’s other baggage.
And then Republicans lost the House in the 2006 midterms.
That was the end of “Speaker Reynolds.”
Until Tuesday night, at least one tributary of time depicted the following:
It’s around 1:30 pm ET on January 3, 2018. The House of Representatives just tapped Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) as Speaker to start the 116th Congress.
A “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment cascaded across voting booths in battleground districts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Texas, Colorado and Washington. Along this particular continuum, Democrats won the House, thanks in part to the success of moderate candidates in their party. As a result, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) didn’t have the votes to return to the Speakership. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wasn’t in the mix either.
A few ripples in time away, there’s another scenario. It’s January 3rd and Crowley starts the new Congress as House Majority Leader or Majority Whip. Or, perhaps Minority Leader or Minority Whip. It’s all contingent upon a series of probabilities hinging on the midterm elections and the futures of Pelosi and Hoyer.
But these narratives won’t happen now. That’s because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez happened to Joe Crowley Tuesday night in the New York Democratic primary.
Big things may have been in store for Crowley. But in the end, butterflies in the Bronx and Queens had other ideas.
An inflection point for Crowley may have come not long after the 2016 midterm election. House Democrats were hopping mad about Pelosi and the abysmal showing by Democrats in House contests. Democrats didn’t want to just anoint Pelosi as leader again.
Many Democrats thought Crowley commanded enough sway throughout various wings of the Democratic Caucus to challenge Pelosi then. Hoyer wouldn’t go after Pelosi if she ran. Crowley also elected to sit on the sidelines. In the end, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) ran, snatching 63 votes from Pelosi in her bid to return as House Minority Leader. To be sure, Pelosi would have been tough to beat. But that may have been Crowley’s best shot at climbing the leadership ladder.
A potential Crowley victory would have propelled him to a lofty perch. He’d be the highest-elected Democratic official in the land, alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). One wonders how much turbulence the butterfly wings could have generated under those circumstances.
None of this is new. Consider that former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was supposed to succeed former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). That was the case until Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) happened to Cantor.
Brat’s victory was an inflection point for House Republicans. Boehner had been looking to retire from Congress. Brat’s defeat of Cantor upended those plans. And then when Boehner finally did decide to cash it in, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) mysteriously withdrew, arguably short of the votes.
Minutes after McCarthy pulled out, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) declared he wouldn’t run for Speaker…
Until Ryan reversed course two weeks later, guiled into the job by GOPers. They knew the party was on the verge of an internecine bloodbath over who would fill the void.
Most have forgotten there were Quixotic campaigns for Speaker that fall by Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). It’s unclear if a Webster or Chaffetz Speakership exists along the folds of time. But those membranes are slender compared to the more robust chances of someone like Crowley.
There’s a lot of Democratic turmoil over Pelosi and possibly Hoyer right now. That’s why many believed the timing was perfect for Crowley. One could certainly never rule out Hoyer as a potential successor to Pelosi. But over the years, there was a long list of people not named Hoyer who Pelosi seemed to groom as potential successors. But the political landscape is littered with a lot of Democrats who were “supposed to be.”
Former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) is now Mayor of Chicago. Former Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is now Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) retired and now writes novels. Former Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) is now California Attorney General.
So Crowley is out of the mix. Nothing abhors a vacuum like politics. So imagine the geometric growth of potential for another group of lawmakers, now sensing opportunity: the aforementioned Tim Ryan along with Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Dan Kildee (D-MI)…and probably a few others.
Who knows who will wind up where – if anywhere at all? These Democrats haven’t even entered the “supposed to be” phase yet.
This is why it’s nearly impossible to determine who climbs in Congressional leadership battles. It’s “particle politics” where outcomes are determined at the sub-atomic political level.
Fabled Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison just died this week. Ellison is known for writing what’s regarded as the best Star Trek episode of all time: “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
Captain Kirk travels through a time portal and finds himself in 1930s Manhattan. Kirk falls in love with a Depression-era social worker played by Joan Collins. Kirk has a choice: continue the romance or let his love die in a car accident. He chooses the latter. Had she lived, Collins’s character would later form a global pacifist movement. Collins’s survival would inadvertently help the Nazis win World War II. But after Kirk lets her die, time resumes its usual trajectory and the Allies defeat the Nazis in the war.
In other words, sometimes there are reasons things turn out the way they do.
Tax reform without Paul Ryan at the helm? Maybe there’s a reason Congress didn’t revise the tax code for 30 years. Perhaps Pelosi is supposed to return to the Speakership to tangle with Trump? Or is that the destiny of Steny Hoyer? And maybe Kevin McCarthy is still supposed to be Speaker. He just wasn’t supposed to be House Speaker in 2015.
Charlie Rose and Tom Reynolds and Eric Cantor and Joe Crowley all have something in common: they were supposed to be House Speaker.
Until they weren’t.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.