WASHINGTON - The 35- to 40-member conservative Freedom caucus, which prompted the current Republican leadership scramble, wants to weaken the office of the House speaker in a power grab, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said on Friday.
Amid discussions of who should replace Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who announced last month he will quit Congress at the end of October, caucus members are calling for new rules under which the leadership should operate.
King criticized some proposed rule changes, such as limiting the speaker's power to make committee assignments or to select the bills and amendments that reach the House floor.
"The sum and substance of what they want is to really dramatically weaken the office of the speaker," King said in a telephone interview. "Basically, it's just an attempt to give them more power."
The rules would make the speaker "basically just the holder of the rule book," a referee who makes no decisions other than whether everyone played by the rules, King said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), however, is open to changing the rules.
"Any proposal that would decentralize power where individual members and committees are able to influence policy more, you could make the argument that it's taking power away from the speaker," Zeldin said.
"But honestly, the more effective the House is by improving the process the more influential the speaker will become outside of the Capitol and when bringing your message to the White House, to the media or to the American public."
Meanwhile, King said he is joining many other Republicans in urging Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to run for speaker as the only one who can unite the fractious House Republican caucus.
"He would be the only one I could see who could unify the party, at least in the short run," King said.
But King warned that Freedom caucus members will make the same criticisms of Ryan as they leveled against Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who, lacking their support, abruptly withdrew from the speaker's race Thursday.
Zeldin said it will be interesting to see who decides to run -- and who else is urged to run -- over the next 48 to 72 hours.
"In the beginning of next week, we'll be getting a clearer picture of what the field will be looking like," Zeldin said. "It was just 24 hours ago that Kevin McCarthy went from moments away from being speaker-elect to returning to his majority leader position."