The Florida Republican came to Congress in 2010 as part of the original tea party electoral wave, beating Democratic firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). Since then, he’s kept a low profile compared to his conservative colleagues. Webster is not a frequent face on Fox News, he’s not a regular presence in the Capitol’s Speaker’s lobby just off the House floor, and he’s not someone identified as a rabble-rouser. In fact, few people outside the House Republican Conference seem to know who he is. His public image is surprisingly blank.
Webster’s campaign for the speaker’s gavel might seem unusual, but he’s a former leader in the Florida state legislature. He was elected to the Florida House in 1980 and spent two years as speaker before moving on to the Florida Senate in 1998. By the time he left state politics in 2008, he had been majority leader in the Florida Senate for two years. He knows Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) quite well, since they served together in the legislature.
Webster is known for his work on transportation, a relevant topic for his Orlando district. A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he helped recommend ways to tie together road, rail, air cargo and ports infrastructure as part of a special 2013 panel and participated in a conference committee to finalize reauthorization of water infrastructure projects last year.
If it seems like there is something missing from his congressional resume, it’s because there is: Webster used to sit on the House Rules Committee, but he was removed by leadership in January as punishment for not backing Boehner in his January reelection contest for speaker. This gives him bona fides with the base, even if he doesn’t rank as well as other conservatives on scorecards like the one maintained by Heritage Action. In that ranking, Webster is below six other Florida House members, at 77 percent.
Born in Charleston, W.Va., Webster studied electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and eventually took over his family’s heating and air conditioning business. He and his wife, Sandy, home-schooled their six children and are known for their Baptist faith.
He apparently gets plenty of jokes for his name, shared by the late Sen. Daniel Webster, a Whig leader who died in 1852. “I don’t know that I possess his oratory ability, however there is a real likeness among the Websters in my family to him,” Webster told The Hill in 2013, noting rumors that the two are related.