Conservatives rebel against Boehner
Conservative opposition to John Boehner’s reelection as speaker on Thursday was more determined than it originally seemed, as a small band of hard-liners either flat-out opposed the speaker or simply abstained from casting a ballot.
There were some signs that conservative resistance to Boehner was well-organized, at least by one member who has never been a big fan of the Ohio Republican.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) — who was recently removed from key committees and supported Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker — sat on the House floor during the speaker vote brandishing an iPad. A message was displayed on the screen ticking off members of the House Republican Conference he hoped would oppose the sitting speaker. The title of the document: “You would be fired if this goes out.”
Among the Republicans on the list were Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Steve Fincher (Tenn.) and Scott Desjarlais (Tenn.). All of them ultimately supported Boehner.
It’s not clear that any of the Republicans on Huelskamp’s list knew they were on it, or even knew of the list’s existence.
In the end, nine Republicans abandoned the Ohio Republican’s bid for a second term as speaker, and cast votes for people as varied as a former member of Congress who lost his reelection bid in November and a 1990s-era U.S. comptroller general who appears on cable television.
Two Republicans – Reps. Raul Labrador (Idaho) and Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) – sat in the chamber, pointedly ignoring the call of their name to cast a vote for Boehner, who edged to victory with 220 votes. And newly elected Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who returned to the House after 15 years, voted “present,” demonstrating his lack of fear for the diminished Boehner.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — long a foil to Boehner — got three votes. As a trio of Republicans lawmakers cast their votes for him, Cantor shook his head on the House floor, visibly displeased. His office declined to comment on the vote.
Huelskamp’s and others’ whipping efforts to oust the speaker fell short, though several lawmakers listed in the Kansan’s iPad message did oppose Boehner, including Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Paul Broun (Ga.).
“I will not comment on stories that invade personal e-mails or private property,” Huelskamp said in a statement read by a spokesman when asked about the anti-Boehner list, which was clearly visible to photographers and reporters as he worked on it while sitting on the House floor.
But the drama playing out among House Republicans during the last 48 hours was a rebuke of Boehner’s leadership — and one that matters in both substance and style.
A small, but extraordinarily vocal group of conservatives sent Boehner a message: We don’t trust you.
Boehner allies write off the near-miss as sour grapes from lawmakers who have long opposed the Ohio Republican. Boehner is speaker for the 113th Congress, they noted. But the numbers do matter. Boehner now faces significant restiveness in his ranks over taxes, spending, borrowing, messaging and his hands-off leadership style.
And this comes as Boehner is about to enter three months that will define his tenure as speaker.
He is now somewhat weakened leading into key showdowns with President Barack Obama over the debt ceiling, the tens of billions in spending cuts known as the sequester - which will kick in in two months - and a government-funding bill, also set to expire in March. The debt ceiling in particular has become a rallying cry for conservatives as they seek to avenge themselves for the tax hikes imposed as a result of the fiscal cliff deal.
The discontented Republicans who opposed Boehner on Thursday — people like 18-year veteran Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina — say that the number of Republicans willing to entertain a challenge to Boehner was actually closer to 20. If Boehner hadn’t made peace this week with the New Jersey and New York delegations over the Hurricane Sandy aid bill — which Boehner initially refused to bring up for a vote until publicly smacked by Gov. Chris Christie (R) and others — the speaker may have had an even bigger problem on his hands.
The problems were evident on the floor right before the roll-call to pick the speaker. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had an animated conservation with Fincher, one of the names on Huelskamp’s whip list urging him to vote for Boehner. McCarthy’s lobbying worked and Fincher backed Boehner’s reelection.
Amash, a second-term libertarian lawmaker, was also trying to rally support against Boehner. He ended up voting for his colleague, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).
Amash — who was recently booted off the Budget Committee by the GOP leadership — said there were “more than a couple dozen members who openly expressed their discontent to having the speaker continue,” although only 12 were willing to publicly display that on the floor by opposing Boehner’s reelection.
As opposed to tea party-allied Republicans, Amash thinks there’s too much partisanship being promoted by Boehner and other party leaders, and he wants real compromises with Democrats.
“Republicans have become too focused on hating Democrats and not focused enough on dealing with the real problems we have as a country,” Amash said. “Let’s cut the partisan crap out. Republicans and Democrats can work together to balance our budget. They just have to do it. They have to have the courage to do it.”
Amash added: “The reason I‘m upset with our leadership is not because they’re working with Democrats. It’s because they’re not working with Democrats.”
Garrett, who didn’t vote at all in the first round and was also on the Huelskamp list, was convinced to support Boehner after being lobbied by leadership, GOP insiders said.
Even those who supported Boehner complain about how the leader operates, and the freedom he will have to negotiate with Obama and Democrats is likely to be severely restrained.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said the GOP conference is “starting out with less momentum than we did before. That’s an issue.”
“If you have a speaker that decides up front they wont shut government down, or go over whatever cliff may emerge, well then you really don’t have any bargaining chips,” Fleming told POLITICO. “So that’s yet to be seen.”
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said “it would be fair to say that he is a little bit on a hot seat,” but noted it wasn’t totally his fault.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who voted for Cantor over Boehner, told POLITICO he was “looking for a different direction.” Boehner, he said, needs to “offer bold leadership, that’s what I’m looking for.”
There’s evidence that Boehner senses the tension — and is looking to find ways to ease it. He told House Republicans he’s done negotiating behind closed doors with Obama. He’ll spend time at the House Republican retreat — set to occur Jan. 16 in Williamsburg, Va. — talking about how the conference will resolve internal differences, while still being able to pass important bills with solely Republican votes, lawmakers said
However, there are members who simply feel wronged by Boehner and his leadership team. Jones, who voted for former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker for speaker, is at the end of his rope with leadership
“The statement is we need to go back to conservative principles, and stop all this growing the government,” Jones said.