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Politics In The News


And let's bring in Cokie Roberts now. She joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.


GREENE: So you have not only covered Congress for decades; you basically grew up in Congress, with parents who were members. I mean, when you listen to that story from Greg - I mean, what would happen if Daniel Webster got his way and he and his friends actually changed the procedure in Congress?

ROBERTS: Well, I think if they allowed everybody to present bills and amendments and everything and talk on every subject, the answer would be chaos. I mean, there's a reason that the rules did evolve - because even in the House of Representatives in the early days, there was endless debate. And in fact, the debate over the War of 1812, which I did not cover...

GREENE: (Laughter) I'm glad you pointed that out, thank you.

ROBERTS: Yes (laughter). The only way that the supporters of the declaration of war stopped the debate was to throw a spittoon. And the speaker stopped talking, and they declared the debate over and then took what was basically a party-line vote. So there was a sense that the House required rules. And over the centuries, the Rules Committee evolved. And there have been revolts against it in the past. But basically, in recent history - meaning the last hundred years or so - it has been a tool of the speaker of either party and sets the terms of debate so that there can be some sort of order in what is essentially a raucous body, the House of Representatives.

GREENE: OK, so maybe we're not getting to spittoon territory. But, I mean, you have this group - I mean, conservatives who were able to oust Boehner and, it seems, push out McCarthy, basically saying they don't want to adhere to tradition. I mean, couldn't some traditions be in danger here? Couldn't we see some sort of change?

ROBERTS: Oh, sure, absolutely. There have been revolts against speakers of the House in the past. But it requires a majority vote, I'd like to point out. And we don't see that with this particular group of upset Republicans. Look, you know, in the British Parliament, they drag the speaker to the dais as a ceremony to say how awful the job is because, you know, in one year there were two speakers beheaded on the same day. So you're seeing something of that right now. Nobody wants this job. And I went into the weekend thinking that Paul Ryan would bend to the will of the people in his party telling him he has to do it. But now I'm not so sure because a lot of the feisty Republicans are saying, well, they're not so sure either. And they're being driven by the presidential candidates. You know, what is the mileage, David, in being a speaker trying to get something done when you have a field of Republican presidential candidates out there saying, if you get anything done, you're a sellout? I mean, why would anybody take this job? I wouldn't be surprised at all if John Boehner ends up holding onto it for a good while.

GREENE: Wow, well, that'll be interesting. Well, beheadings - at least that puts everything in perspective. Washington has not gotten that bad. A few seconds left, Cokie, just set up the Democratic debate for us.

ROBERTS: Well, it's the first time that we will see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders going head-to-head. And it is also an opportunity for the people who are down in the field, particularly former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, to show if he really has anything. And so it's really make or break for him I think.

GREENE: All right, we'll have to stop there. Cokie, thanks, as always. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us on the program most Mondays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.