F. Scott Fitzgerald is quoted as saying "There are no second acts in American lives."
That is to say that the action moves too quickly, hop scotching kinetically from the first act to the third.
Congress is in a state of transition right now as many lawmakers find themselves skipping to a new act. Many lost. Many retired. Some are moving from the House to the Senate. Some may soon take up new posts, chairing key committees or serving as the top ranking member. Still, others find themselves in precisely the same position where they've been - harboring even exacerbated ambitions about their next move as they try to scale the political ladder.
But the script in our drama focuses on questions swirling around several key Congressional players as the curtain rises on the next act.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI):
Without question, no member of Congress will face as much scrutiny over the next few months as Ryan. The vanquished Republican Vice Presidential nominee returns as Chairman of the Budget Committee after scoring a "waiver" from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). A few other lawmakers with similar tenure at the top of a major committee faced term limits. Boehner enforced an internal GOP rule on Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-NY), Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Science Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). But Boehner made an exception for Ryan in the 113th Congress.
Ryan returns to Capitol Hill amid two competing narratives. The first narrative says that despite the party's loss in the presidential sweepstakes, the Wisconsin Republican is well-positioned to make a presidential run in 2016. The past campaign catapulted Ryan onto the national stage, bolstering his profile. He's a conservative who most in the party embrace for his efforts at fiscal discipline.
But the other narrative isn't as friendly. Some GOP loyalists view Ryan as damaged goods. While they applaud his conservatism, many wonder if an AC/DC-listening, PX-90-condittioned white male from suburbia is what the party needs. Will the party prefer a moderate, straight-talking, take-no-prisoners character like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)? Or will they gravitate toward someone like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and his Cuban-American background? Or perhaps a "two-fer" like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R)?
Some political observers suggest one look no further than House leadership elections two weeks ago to understand the tarnish on the Ryan brand. In the race for House Republican Conference Chair (the number four slot in the House GOP hierarchy), Ryan backed Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) over Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). McMorris Rodgers eventually prevailed. The thought is that the party needed to pair a woman with the other three white males atop the House GOP leadership structure.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA):
There's much chatter in Washington about Kerry during a second Obama presidential term. He's been mentioned as a potential successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Kerry has the chops for both. And that's to say nothing of the opening atop the Central Intelligence Agency.
But there are questions about what a Kerry nomination would do for Bay State politics. Kerry's departure would trigger an appointment and a special election. There's been a lot of turmoil surrounding Massachusetts Senate seats of late. Massachusetts reworked its appointment rules so Gov. Deval Patrick (D) could appoint a Democrat to succeed the late-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) after he died in 2009. In fact, the Massachusetts legislature reversed itself after making it harder for then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) to appoint a Republican to succeed Kerry to the Senate in 2004 if he had won the presidency. Patrick appointed former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk to succeed Kennedy. Democrat Martha Coakley then lost to Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) in a special election in 2010. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) just emerged from a bruising battle to defeat Brown. If Kerry leaves the Senate for an administration gig, Democrats could again face another scrap with Brown in a special election as they attempt to hold that seat.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN):
The primary loss by veteran Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to conservative Richard Mourdock was a watershed moment for the GOP. The former chair and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar is a Republican from another era who made a career of working across the aisle to solve nettlesome issues. Lugar ran for president in 1996 and Richard Nixon described him as his "favorite mayor" when the Indiana Republican presided over Indianapolis. Few can boast the same diplomatic, military and intelligence bona fides as Lugar. All administrations try to tap one or two figures from the other party for cabinet positions. But Lugar says he isn't interested. Perhaps in a different time or place, Lugar would be someone to watch in a second Obama Administration.
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA):
Dicks is retiring after 36 years in Congress. Again, with vacancies at the CIA and Pentagon, Dicks would seem to be someone with the right portfolio. He's now the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and has been involved with the Defense Appropriations panel for years. But a source close to Dicks says he's not in the running which is perhaps why his name hasn't been mentioned much lately.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL):
These lawmakers are lumped together because their fates are connected.
Two weeks ago, Pelosi announced she would remain on board as leader of House Democrats. That effectively neutralized any immediate scrambles to succeed her. But what Pelosi may have done is merely delayed internecine contretemps. Pelosi will move on at some point. But what happens between now and then bears watching.
The first question is that if Pelosi starts now to groom a hand-picked successor. Would that be someone from further down in the Democratic ranks? If so, that could pose problems for both Becerra and Wasserman Schultz. Becerra's in line to become chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Wasserman Schultz is remaining on as head of the DNC. Both have reportedly had differences with Pelosi. Secondly, does Pelosi stick around so long that the opportunity for the top gig is never available to her long-time rival Hoyer, or to a lesser degree, Clyburn.
It's obvious Pelosi has particular affection for Van Hollen and Israel. When Pelosi wielded the gavel as House Speaker, she drafted Van Hollen to be her "Special Assistant." A Maryland native, some viewed Pelosi's maneuver as a direct slap at her Terrapin colleague Hoyer. Pelosi has also invested a great deal in Israel. In 2009, the Obama Administration effectively blocked Israel and other New York Democrats from running to challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Pelosi later persuaded Israel to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). An influential post, the DCCC is charged with recruiting and electing House Democrats. When Pelosi announced her intention to remain on board as Minority Leader, she told House Democrats it was conditional - Israel had to stay on board as chairman of the DCCC.
Rep. Allen West (R-FL):
There's an old saying that there's no such thing as bad press.
No freshman House member gathered more press - good or bad - than West in the 112th Congress. There hadn't been a black Republican in the House since 2003 when former Rep. JC Watts (R-OK) lost. Voters elected two African Americans in 2010: West and Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC). A career military officer, West arrived on Capitol Hill after defeating former Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL). Klein initially staved off a challenge from West in 2008. But he drew the ire of Congressional Democrats over the past two years.
West fired off an email to Wasserman Schultz and the entire House leadership in which he called his Sunshine State colleague "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives."
He later suggested that "about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party...are members of the Communist Party."
This year, West narrowly lost re-election to Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy (D-PA). But didn't give up easily. He went to court to demand recounts. His campaign issued a press release trumpeting that St. Lucie County, FL Elections Director Gertrude Walker "clearly runs (the) most corrupt elections office in the state of Florida."
West amassed an extraordinary war chest in his bid against Murphy. And despite losing to Murphy, West will remain in high demand on the conservative speaking circuit.
With impressive fundraising prowess and outspoken views, West could certainly run again. And he could find his way into a lucrative position as a political commentator. He'd certainly bring eyeballs to the set or clicks to a website.
Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC):
All eyes are trained on the aforementioned Scott after Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) abruptly announced his resignation to head the conservative Heritage Foundation.
There is mixed chatter about how South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) might handle her appointment to succeed DeMint.
Many in the GOP would like Haley to appoint Scott. The first-term lawmaker has strong ties to the Club For Growth and tea party-aligned organizations. Plus, there hasn't been a Republican, African American senator since Sen. Ed Brooke (R-MA) in the late 1970s.
Obviously, the appointment of Scott could be a critical move for the party that struggled mightily with minority voters in the last election. Moreover, this is also a state that sent Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) to the Senate. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) actually holds what had been Thurmond's seat.
There is word now that Haley is seriously considering appointing former South Carolina House Speaker and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins to the seat as a caretaker until a special election is held in 2014. Haley and Wilkins are close and he helped the governor get her start in the state legislature.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC):
The name folks aren't talking about is Wilson. The most-senior Republican in South Carolina's Congressional delegation, it's thought that Wilson could be a serious contender for the DeMint seat - had he not heckled President Obama at a Joint Session of Congress in September, 2009.
And so the curtain now rises on the next act. Like in most dramas, whose fortune will rise or fall? Who stumbles? Who subtly jockeys for position and then impresses everyone with a brilliant maneuver that thrusts them onto the scene
There are plenty of plot twists ahead. Please be seated. The house lights are about to dim.