U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper

A seemingly off-the-wall theory is being thrown around in this strange period of American politics: In the event Republicans retake control of the U.S. House in 2022, they could give their lord and master Donald Trump the speaker’s gavel. It may sound absurd at first blush, but this isn’t some sort of QAnon conspiracy theory — nor, according to Nashville’s Rep. Jim Cooper, is it a threat to be overlooked.

“In 2016, the idea of the election of Donald Trump seemed mad to many, including myself,” Cooper tells the Scene. “But in the world of politics, this is less far-fetched than the thought of Trump in the White House was five years ago.”

How It’s Possible

The odds of Republicans flipping the House next year are relatively high, given the current narrow Democratic margin, the long history of midterm losses by the party controlling the White House and the likelihood of Republican gerrymandering during the imminent redistricting process.

“Though it has never been occupied by an ‘outsider,’ the Constitution’s provisions for the speakership does not stipulate that position is held by a sitting member of the House,” Cooper explains.

The congressman has himself nominated an outsider for the position several times during his long congressional career.

“In years where Republicans had control, I nominated Colin Powell — instead of casting a vote for a Democrat who I knew would not be elected by the Republican majority,” Cooper says. “Though he was a Republican, Powell was progressive and openly supported President Obama.”

Cooper points out that the speakership and the presidency are not mutually exclusive. In theory, Trump could serve as speaker of the House and still campaign for the presidency in 2024.

What Republicans Are Saying 

When asked if he wanted to succeed Nancy Pelosi in 2023, Trump called the idea “very interesting.” He has not publicly commented on the wild scheme proposed by his disgraced ex-strategist Steve Bannon, however, whereby speaker Trump would preside over the impeachment and removal of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and reassume the presidency in order to run for another term as an incumbent in 2024. 

Down in MAGA land, incumbent Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is soliciting campaign donations on the promise to nominate Donald Trump for the speakership.

"After the next election cycle when we take back the House of Representatives, when we send [current speaker] Nancy Pelosi back to the filth of San Francisco, my commitment to you is that my vote for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will go to Donald J. Trump," Gaetz said at a rally in Sarasota, Fla., in July.

This type of rhetoric has House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who would presumably be speaker if Republicans regain control and the Trump maneuver isn’t attempted — uneasy, according to a Republican congressional staffer who wishes to remain anonymous. 

“Whether they support him behind closed doors or not, Republicans know Trump is popular with their base,” the source says. “McCarthy doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of support from the GOP base or his colleagues — who think of him as a ladder climber.”

“You know, I've talked to President Trump many times, he tells me he wants to be speaker, and I think he should be president," McCarthy said in an interview with Fox News. Days later, a spokesperson for McCarthy clarified that he “meant” to say that Trump has told him McCarthy should be speaker, not the former president.

What Democrats Are Saying

Cooper isn’t the only Democrat who is concerned. Nearly three months ago, House Democrat Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania introduced legislation with the self-explanatory title of the Mandating That Being an Elected Member Be an Essential Requirement for speakership Act of 2021. 

Since the Constitution is silent on the subject — and the federal courts are likely to defer to Congress in setting rules for its own leadership positions — a simple statute might suffice to bar Donald Trump, according to Cooper.

“The fact that my Republican colleagues are conspicuously tossing Trump’s name around for the speakership should serve as an alarm bell to Democrats,” says Cooper. 

On the other hand, the idea of amending the speaker requirements and barring outsiders from the position could be troubling to House Democrats who have dissented against Pelosi’s reign and cast votes for non-sitting-members such as Stacey Abrams. 

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