Some Republicans are flirting with the radical notion of electing a temporary speaker next week to serve until Newt Gingrich’s ethical problems are finally put to judgment.
There is even talk of finding an interim speaker from outside the House - unprecedented but not constitutionally prohibited. A Democratic congressman is pushing for defeated Republican candidate Bob Dole in that role and says he has not gotten discouraging signals from Dole’s associates.
The idea of a standby speaker is still not expected to get far, but the fact that it is commanding some attention - in and outside the House - demonstrates the unease some Republicans feel about re-electing Gingrich with his problems unresolved.
They will not be settled until the House votes, probably late this month and after rigorous debate, on a punishment for Gingrich. Ahead of that, on Tuesday, the House is scheduled to elect a speaker and that is why some people are proposing a seatwarmer be selected until the ethics issues is settled.
“A lot of members would much prefer to vote for a speaker when the process has been completed and they know what the penalty (against Gingrich) is going to be,” said Arianna Huffington, a prominent figure in conservative circles and the wife of multimillionaire Michael Huffington, a former House member.
Gingrich has admitted violating House rules by providing inaccurate information to investigators and failing to seek proper legal advice on using tax-exempt foundations to advance his career and political agenda.
Dick Cheney, a widely respected former House member and defense secretary now in business in Texas, and Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, a senior statesman in GOP ranks, have been mentioned as possible temporary speakers.
But many conservative Republicans are skeptical.
“There’s no panic button that needs pushing,” said Craig Shirley, a Republican consultant. “It would unnecessarily open up a discussion that does not need to be opened. Gingrich is going to be re-elected speaker and he is going to be speaker for a long time.”
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he intended to push his draft-Dole idea if he finds solid support among Democrats when they caucus on Tuesday.
“I spoke to Dole’s staff,” Stupak said.
“I asked permission to use his name in this project. I told them that if they have a problem with it to let me know. I’m not here to cause any embarrassment. I’m doing it because we have to stop the sniping that’s going on.”