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Trump as House speaker would be the 'duck-billed platypus' of politics

Former President Donald Trump potentially becoming House speaker, an idea floated by some conservatives, would be the "duck-billed platypus" of politics.

Donald Trump is running for president again in 2024.

But there was a brief period earlier this month when the former president was also running for speaker.

Only one person has ever served as both House speaker and president. But certainly not at the same time. James Polk was elected House speaker by his colleagues from 1835 to 1839 while he was a congressman from Tennessee. Later, from 1845 to 1849, Polk served as president.

It was always doubtful Trump would ever become speaker of the House. It was a mathematical impossibility for the former president to win the speakership on the House floor. But amid an astonishing leadership vacuum atop the legislative branch of the United States, it should come as no surprise that some Republicans – and even former President Trump himself – were shopping him as a potential successor to former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.


Rep. Greg Stuebe, R-Fla., advocated for a Trump speakership early on.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, quickly announced that he would "nominate Donald J. Trump for speaker of the House" just after the House stripped McCarthy of his gavel earlier this month. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., also pushed Trump for the job.

"I support President Trump because he has a four-year proven record as president," said Greene, noting she would nominate Trump in the House Republican Conference. "We’re talking about an interim speakership. And I think President Trump is exactly the right outsider for this." 

Let’s establish a couple of facts:

The House has never had a non-member serve as the speaker of the House. But the Constitution and House rules allow for the possibility of non-lawmakers to serve as speaker.


"(These are) unprecedented times and the Constitution allows it. This just not just an ordinary person that we would be bringing in as speaker," added Greene about Trump. 

So someone who is NOT a lawmaker could certainly serve as House speaker. But specifically, what about former President Trump?

Trump is facing trial on multiple felony indictments in various jurisdictions. House Rule XXIII states that members indicted for a crime "which a sentence of two or more years’ imprisonment may be imposed... should step aside from any party caucus or leadership position."

Note that it says "should." And the House rule alludes to "caucus" or conference leadership slots. One might be able to argue that doesn’t pertain to the speaker. That’s because the entire House elects the speaker. But Fox is told the "spirit" of the rule applies to the speaker, too. Both the Republicans and Democrats also have internal rules that bar those under felony indictments from serving in leadership posts. 

This is one of the reasons why Republicans altered their rules in 2004 to protect then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, prior to an indictment on alleged campaign finance violations. But after encountering public blowback, the GOP dropped the rule change. DeLay faced indictment and stepped away from leadership. DeLay was convicted in 2010 but cleared on appeal in 2013.

Regardless, this House "rule" or "guidance" is not self-executing. And if a speaker faced a felony indictment, we’re now well-versed in the mechanisms to remove him or her: move to vacate the chair on the floor. 

So, that means former President Trump could serve, regardless of his legal woes. 

And so the former president floated his name for speaker shortly after the House showed McCarthy the door. 


"All I can say is we'll do whatever is best for the country and for the Republican Party," Trump said.

Democrats relished the potential chaos. 

"I think Donald Trump is good about inserting himself in any news cycle," mused Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. "It isn't going to aid House Republicans."

Fox even confirmed that Trump planned at one point to attend the House GOP’s "candidate forum" for House speakers – even though he’s not a member of the House nor a member of the House Republican Conference.

"I dare them to keep him out," warned Greene. "I will nominate him in the conference and President Trump can attend."

Greene could certainly have nominated the former president. But such a nomination doesn’t guarantee an audience with House Republicans behind closed doors. In fact, a senior House GOP leadership source quickly told Fox that Trump would not be permitted to attend the meeting.

But, like most things in this mid-Congress speaker’s race, everything changed within a few hours.

After Trump suggested he could fill the speaker’s void, the former president endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, for the job. Of course, Jordan finally crashed and burned in his bid for speaker after three failed votes on the floor. Jordan bled support on each ballot.

Some political observers wondered if Jordan’s defeat demonstrated a diminishment of support for Trump, considering his sway over House Republicans. Jordan’s spectacular flame-out was a rejection of the pro-MAGA wing of the party and an embarrassment for the former president.

Nehls was beside himself last week after Jordan lost on the floor and Republicans voted by secret ballot to nix the Ohio Republican as their nominee for speaker.


"I don’t think the Lord Jesus Himself could get to 217 (votes) with this conference," groused Nehls. "So I’m going to start recommending Donald J. Trump as our speaker for 100 days. We could bring him for 100 days. I think it would be fantastic. I think it would show unity."

But that’s the issue with Trump as a possible speaker.

He could be speaker – but not an actual member of the House.

He could be speaker – but could not vote on the House floor.

He could be speaker – but not a member and thus potentially exempt from House rules that instruct lawmakers not to serve in leadership positions if they face serious criminal charges.

In short, a hypothetical Trump speakership would be the "duck-billed platypus" of politics.

The duck-billed platypus is a mammal. But its classification defies many scientific norms.

The creature has a bill. It features webbed feet and spews venom. Those characteristics aren’t consistent with mammals. That led some 18th-century scientists to question whether the duck-billed platypus was really a reptile – or even some sort of species in transition.

Mammals, ranging from humans to elephants, give birth to their young. The duck-billed platypus lays eggs.

It’s hard to figure out.

And so would a non-member serving as House speaker.

Trump isn’t the only non-member commanding roll call votes for speaker.

Former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and former Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and Candice Miller, R-Mich., have also commanded votes on the floor in recent weeks.

But a Trump speakership? It’s unlikely to happen. But like the duckbilled platypus, would be difficult to categorize in political taxonomy.

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