In reporting on a potential conservative revolt to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan's (R-Wis.) leadership, The Post's Robert Costa and Ashley Parker raise an intriguing possibility: Some unhappy conservatives are throwing out the idea of bringing back Newt Gingrich for speaker. Or maybe Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania/GOP presidential candidate who served in the House for a couple of years in the early ’90s.
To which I say: Why stop there? How about Scott Baio for speaker? “Duck Dynasty's” Willie Robertson? Tom Brady?
I know, I got a little crazy with that last one. But the point is: Any U.S. citizen can be speaker. The Constitution does not require the speaker to be a current member of Congress, or even a former member of Congress. House rules just require that you get a majority of all the votes cast in a speaker election.
Heck, you don't even have to be formally nominated by either party to run the people's chamber. You can bypass the official party infrastructure completely and still get elected speaker. It's never happened before, but you wouldn't be the first nonmember of Congress to get a vote from members of Congress to be speaker.
Here's how you'd pull it off:
Both parties typically choose a nominee behind closed doors, by secret ballot. Once the big floor vote occurs, Democrats tend to vote for their nominee, Republicans vote for theirs, and whichever party has the majority in the House overall gets to elect the speaker.
And this is where you could sneak in, Tom Brady.
Since 1839, lawmakers have cast their vote for election for speaker by voice vote. According to the Congressional Research Service, “each voting member states aloud the surname of the candidate whom he or she favors for Speaker.”
If you do enough behind-the-scenes lobbying with enough members of Congress, you can get them to stand up and say your name, not their party's nominee.
If 218 lawmakers (or a majority of how many lawmakers are present and vote), say your name, you're the speaker. The end.
It's simple enough in theory, but apparently it's very hard to pull off. All speakers up to this point have been current members of Congress, though nonmembers have gotten a handful of votes over the years. And it's happening more frequently.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in all of House history, nonmembers of Congress have received votes for speaker in 1997 and 2013, and twice in 2015. Most of those votes were for former members of Congress.
In 1997 (when Gingrich was reelected speaker) one lawmaker voted for his predecessor, who had recently retired, former representative Robert Michel. Another voted for recently retired, fiery Republican representative Bob Walker.
The Congressional Research Service thinks that was the first time in House history that someone who wasn't a current member got a vote for speaker. (Although before the World War II era, and again in 2001, lawmakers were known to vote for the nominee of the other major party rather than their own, or toss in other members of Congress.)
A vote for a nonmember of Congress for speaker didn't happen again for nearly two decades.
Then, in January 2013, as House Republicans reelected former House speaker John A. Boehner, a couple of mostly conservative Republicans revolted. Former secretary of state Colin Powell, former tea party congressman Allen B. West of Florida and former comptroller general David Walker each got votes to be speaker. (West, who had recently retired, got two votes from outspoken conservatives.)
A trend was started.
In January 2015, in what would ultimately be Boehner's last election to the position, two Republicans actually voted for sitting members of the U.S. Senate. Rep. Gary Palmer (Ala.) voted for his Alabama colleague, Jeff Sessions, and then-Rep. Curtis J. Clawson (Fla.) voted for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
That summer, some Republicans contemplated a revolt to oust Boehner. (“On any given day, a member is unhappy” with leadership, David Rehr, a public policy professor at George Washington University, told me at the time.)
Boehner ultimately left on his own terms that fall. And in October 2015, in the election that would put Ryan in the top job, Powell got a vote again.
In the history of the House, you can count on two hands the number of votes nonmembers of Congress have received for speaker. And as far as I can tell, Powell and Walker are the only two people who never served in Congress (House or Senate) to get a vote for speaker. The rest have at least some legislative experience.
And that's probably your biggest hang-up if you want to swoop in and run the House of Representatives. Post reporters Costa and Parker called up Gingrich to let him know some conservatives were considering sidestepping Ryan and party leadership and voting for him to be speaker. He laughed.
“It would be a joke to have anyone not serving in the House or who’s familiar with the members to lead the body,” he said. “That’s antithetical to what it means to be speaker, and I know what it takes to be speaker.”