Applications Are Open for the Worst Job in Washington

From a Washington Post story by Kara Voght and Jesús Rodriguez headlined “Applications are now open for ‘the worst job in Washington'”:

Just before the work day ended on Tuesday, a hot new job dropped on the Washington market. “The U.S. House of Representatives seeks a Speaker of the House based in Washington D.C.,” wrote the job-search website Daybook on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Yearly salary: $223,500.”

The posting was a gag, but the vacancy is very real. The House is desperately in need of a speaker. Anyone interested?

“After yesterday? No,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday afternoon, speaking for himself.

“Anyone who would want this job right now is crazy,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), once he stopped laughing.

“I can certainly say that it takes a very special kind of person who wants to walk into this,” said Rep. Marcus J. Molinaro (R-N.Y.).

Let’s recap. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who sat through 15 rounds of voting in January to get the speaker job in January thanks to a stubborn faction on the GOP’s right flank, got dumped by a coalition of ticked-off colleagues, which included eight members of his own caucus. The weapon: a motion to vacate, a concession McCarthy made while trying to build support for his speakership that had essentially made him a hostage to his in-party rivals even after he got the gavel.

McCarthy, an incurable smiler, kept a half-grin on his face as the House clerk called upon each lawmaker to decide his fate. It stayed plastered there even when he began to fidget — flicking his phone screen, rubbing the grooves of his wooden chair — as the roll call revealed his speakership was over. Afterward he greeted well-wishers like an usher at his own funeral.

“I made history, didn’t I?” McCarthy, the first speaker to be removed from the chair, quipped to reporters during his 48-minute exit interview.

Anyway, back to that exciting job opportunity.

Pay? Not bad, for government work. Office culture? … we’ll get back to that. The job comes with some perks. “Big office, police escort, second in line to the presidency, get to be called ‘speaker’ for the rest of your life,” said former speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) from his home.

Is the legacy title that good of a perk?

“Well, you know, sometimes it helps you at a restaurant.”

Official Washington is a title town where honorifics, once conferred, never expire. Speaker is a rare designation among the Representatives or Senators, an even bigger deal than Secretary or Ambassador. The Speaker is second in the presidential line of succession. Second! There are fewer living Speakers than living Justices. And it’s a position of prestige that comes with actual power. The Speaker actually gets to decide which bills get brought to the floor. Gets to negotiate with the president. Gets to divvy out committee appointments and campaign cash. Gets to shape what his party stands for, and what it won’t abide.

Then again, look at our Kevin. The grinning hostage. Who would want to be speaker, in this political economy?

“I mean, I don’t know why anybody would do it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s no platform for being able to control the chamber with any one member holding that over your head.”

Tillis, a former speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, had a piece of advice for applicants: “Don’t take the job unless you get rid of the motion to vacate.” (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had the same advice, saying the procedural move makes the job “impossible.”)

A couple of Republicans have already submitted their cover letters: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who had been McCarthy’s second-in-command as majority leader, declared his intention to run with “a strong sense of responsibility and purpose.” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, asked his colleagues to back his bid “at a critical crossroad in our nation’s history.

The morning after McCarthy’s ouster had similar vibes to a school on a professional development day. The House was in recess; most lawmakers had left after yesterday’s vote. The few who remained — McCarthy loyalists, pretenders to the gavel — hung around, some in jeans and chinos, trekking between cable news hits in Statuary Hall and meetings in the speaker’s ceremonial office.

Acting speaker Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), recently seen smashing his new gavel with alarming force at the conclusion of Tuesday’s proceeding, had sequestered himself there for much of the day, emerging only periodically with his phalanx of security, a bow tie and tuft of white hair barely visible through the mass. (Being acting speaker, it appears, requires little speaking to the press.) Tourists on their way to the Rotunda paused to take a photo of the sign hanging above the entrance which, for who knows how much longer, reads “SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE KEVIN McCARTHY.”

The chamber’s three legislative office buildings are named for legendary House speakers. The hallway leading up to the House floor is flanked by marble busts commemorating the achievements of others. The tenures of the speakers honored here are immortalized in gold leaf with their likenesses. Most served through several sessions of Congress — years, in other words, not months. McCarthy held the gavel for 269 days.

Nobody knows how long the next speaker might serve, or how that person will be remembered. They just know that somebody has to do it.

“We just need to get a speaker selected and get our job done,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who hasn’t yet said whether he’ll seek the post. “I mean, it is what it is. It’s an honor to serve as speaker. So we’ve just gotta organize ourselves.”

It is what it is.

And, to some degree, it is what it has been for a while. “Part of being speaker is just you are the whipping boy of the party,” said Matt Green, a politics professor at Catholic University who literally wrote a paper called “The Worst Job In Washington: Kevin McCarthy and the Challenge of the Speakership.” In the paper, Green traces the increasing difficulty of the job to “three major changes in the political environment: (1) highly competitive congressional elections, which disincentivized the minority party to help the majority govern; (2) small House majorities, which reduced the number of same-party lawmakers available to support the speaker; and (3) the election of new members of Congress who viewed norms of party loyalty with skepticism.”

In other words: Honor or not, being speaker sorta sucks now.

“Your job as speaker is to take the slings and arrows, as it were,” Green said in an interview. “And not take it personally. That makes it an unpleasant job. It also means you usually aren’t very popular. So that’s no fun, being unpopular.”

“I don’t like it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) of how the current unpopularity contest has unfolded in the lower chamber. Sullen-faced, he walked down a staircase with his hands in his pockets. “I don’t like chaos or disorder,” Rubio lamented. “It makes the country look bad — but it is what it is.”

More and more, this may be what it is. McCarthy’s plight is a variation on a theme that’s haunted through recent Republican speakerships, according to Gingrich. “That same spirit destroyed Boehner, the same spirit drove Ryan out the House, and that same spirit has now broken Kevin McCarthy,” Gingrich said. (John Boehner and Paul Ryan, former Republican speakers, declined interview requests for this story.)

Those who clicked “Apply Now!” on the Daybook listing were redirected to a subscription page for the job-search service, an apparent self-advertising ploy. The actual process to fill the vacancy is expected to unfold over the next week, possibly longer, as Republicans decide what qualities they’re looking for in a speaker (or a whipping boy, depending).

Congressman Roy, what qualities do you think the next speaker should embody?

“Leadership,” he said, a bit tautologically. “It’s something you exhibit, it’s something that you observe.”

It is what it is. Best of luck to all the applicants.

Kara Voght is a politics reporter for the Style section at The Washington Post, writing features and profiles that capture the political moment. Her work has also appeared in the Atlantic, the New Republic, Rolling Stone and Mother Jones. She grew up in Eastern Connecticut and lives in Washington.

Jesús Rodríguez is a political reporter in The Washington Post’s Style section, with a focus on features and profiles.

Speak Your Mind