David Herszenhorn | New York Times
WASHINGTON — Representative Daniel Webster, the little-known lawmaker endorsed for House speaker on Wednesday by hard-line conservatives, says he has a simple goal in seeking the post that is second in line to the presidency.
“My whole deal is I want to have a principle-based, member-driven caucus,” Mr. Webster said in an interview, standing just outside the House chamber. “That’s all I want to do.”
Mr. Webster’s call for a more open legislative process that would make it easier for rank-and-file lawmakers to put bills and amendments on the House floor is precisely the sort of change sought by the conservatives who pushed for the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who will depart at the end of the month.
They have faulted Mr. Boehner’s leadership style for not empowering House Republicans to be more aggressive in confronting President Obama and Senate Democrats.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, leapfrogged senior colleagues to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Now, he is running to be speaker of the House.
House Republicans are set to cast a first vote for speaker on Thursday, in which the majority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, is the heavy favorite. He faces opposition from Mr. Webster of Florida and Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who are expected to split the remaining votes.
A second vote, requiring a majority of the full House, or 218 votes, is scheduled for this month. Mr. McCarthy will almost certainly fall short of that threshold on Thursday, meaning he will have to work over the next three weeks to consolidate support.
Mr. Webster, who served 18 years in the Florida House of Representatives and in 1996 became its first Republican speaker in 122 years, said that he created a more inclusive legislative process there, and that he could do so again in Washington.
“I think we have a power-driven system now,” Mr. Webster said. “I have seen it at every legislative level all over the country, where a few people at the top of the pyramid of power make all the decisions.”
“All I want to do,” he continued, “is push down that pyramid of power, spread out the base so every member has an opportunity, at least an opportunity to be successful. That’s it.”
In a statement committing its votes to Mr. Webster, the Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 conservative House Republicans, said, “It is clear that our constituents will simply not accept a continuation of the status quo, and that the viability of the Republican Party depends on whether we start listening to our voters and fighting to keep our promises.”
At a forum earlier on Wednesday, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the leader of the Freedom Caucus, said its members were planning to vote as a bloc.
While the group’s support ensures Mr. Webster roughly 40 votes, it is not clear if he will receive many more. When Mr. Webster challenged Mr. Boehner in the last speaker election, he received 12 votes.
Mr. Webster, 66, who received an engineering degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, was elected in 2010, when the Tea Party was sweeping many Republican districts. He shares many conservative values with members of the Freedom Caucus.
He is also a Baptist Christian who opposes abortion in all circumstances and who, as a state senator in 2005, sought to advance legislation that would have kept alive Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who was at the center of a bitter dispute over end-of-life care.
Mr. Webster, who represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Orlando and Lake and Polk Counties, is also an advocate of home schooling.
In the interview at the Capitol, Mr. Webster said that he believed he could improve the public’s view of Congress.
“I am running because I think that we need to change the process here,” he said, “and if we did, many of the problems we face, many of the divisions we face, would go away.”
Mr. Webster said that he shared the view of Freedom Caucus members who feel they do not have a sufficient opportunity to participate in the House, and that he envisioned a more open chamber.
“There are amendments never offered, there are bills never heard, that are basically killed because of the process,” he said. “And this would offer those things to be heard. Then it’s the member’s job to go out and get the votes, not anybody else’s.”