Updated 8:15 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner should lose his gavel if he pursues immigration this year, a prominent tea party Republican said in an interview with CQ Roll Call on Tuesday.
“I think it should cost him his speakership,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho warned, if Boehner puts an immigration overhaul on the floor.
But even if Boehner shelves immigration, Labrador said, the party needs new leadership — and the two-term lawmaker is not ruling out a run for leadership himself.
“There is a hunger in the conference for bold, visionary leaders, and this is not just conservatives — you talk to more middle-of-the-road members of the conference, they’re kind of frustrated with the direction of this leadership, and they’re looking for ways to change that,” he said. Labrador, who was part of a failed coup attempt in 2013 , has made a name for himself inside and outside the Republican Conference by pushing Boehner and other Republican leaders to embrace a new brand of conservatism.
“I think you’re going to see some changes here in the House over the next year,” he said. “I think that this is an opportunity for whoever wants to run for leadership to show that they have a clear vision for America.”
Labrador said the new GOP leadership in the 114th Congress could include members currently in leadership, particularly Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, with whom Labrador has a strong working relationship.
But does Labrador see Boehner as speaker in the 114th?
Labrador described Boehner with words and phrases such as “pragmatic” and a “steady hand” and as someone who “understands how Washington works.” But Labrador said he doesn’t think the Ohio Republican is interested in transforming himself.
“And what I respect about him is that I don’t think he wants to change who he is — that’s actually something to be lauded,” Labrador said. But Labrador intimated that doesn’t mean he’s right for the job.
CQ Roll Call asked whether Boehner can re-create himself once again.
“I don’t think so,” Labrador said.
As for Cantor: “I think he could provide that bold leadership, but he needs to be more open about it, more direct about what direction he wants to go.”
Labrador called CQ Roll Call after an earlier version of this story was posted to stress that he was not predicting Boehner would lose his job, but he said his gut tells him Boehner will not seek another term as speaker. He declined to rule out a run but said he has given no thought to running for speaker.
While Labrador might seem like a long shot for the gavel himself, he has strong ties to the Republicans who seized the conference in 2010 and 2012. And come 2014, a large percentage of the GOP conference will have been elected in the past three cycles.
“I voted for him for speaker,” Justin Amash of Michigan noted on Tuesday, with a chuckle.
“In an open field, he’d be one of my favorites, maybe my favorite,” said Thomas Massie, R-Ky., going on to mention that Labrador, who has appeared on “Meet the Press” eight times, would be “a great spokesman for our party on the Sunday shows every Sunday.”
Labrador said Republican leadership needs to do three things: articulate a clear vision, develop a plan to implement that vision and follow through.
“They’re not doing any of those three,” Labrador said. “They’re sort of floundering, trying to figure out how we can sell our message to the American people.”
One of those very issues GOP leadership is trying to sell is immigration.
Labrador, who walked out on bipartisan House talks on immigration last year, doesn’t think it’s the right time for the issue and thinks most of his fellow Republicans agree.
“The problem that we have right now is that Republicans and the American public don’t trust this president to actually enforce the law,” he said. “It’s the lack of trust that is killing us right now.”
And Labrador had a visceral reaction to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon suggesting last week that leadership would tackle immigration after a majority of GOP primaries are finished.
“That’s such an evil way of doing legislation,” Labrador said.
“To actually openly admit that what you’re going to do is pull the wool over people’s eyes,” he said. “I think that’s offensive. And that’s not what I’m for. That’s not why I came here to Washington, D.C. And it saddens me that my own party thinks that it’s OK to do that.”
Labrador theorized that the middle of 2015 would be a much better time — early enough that it doesn’t become an issue in the presidential debates — especially if the Senate is in Republican hands.
But that may be subject to change. Labrador is prone to changing his mind.
In the summer of 2011, during the debt limit showdown, Labrador was a thorn in the side of leadership, unwilling to accept only a dollar in cuts for every dollar raised in the debt ceiling. Labrador wanted a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, too.
Now Labrador has a different position.
“I actually think we should just do a clean debt ceiling,” he said Tuesday. “Give the Democrats their vote. We don’t have to vote for it.”
Labrador said he would let Democrats “own it” and make raising the debt limit without addressing spending a campaign issue.
He said Republicans have plenty of great ideas on how to cut spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
“The problem is: If we’re not going to fight for them, why are we even going through the ruse of seeming to fight for something?”
The answer to that question, Labrador said in his sarcastic-but-serious tone, is that Republicans “love to lose.”
Labrador, meanwhile, doesn’t see the tea party waning even if fewer people are describing themselves as members.
“It’s always been the same group of people that sort of remain silent in the shadows until they can’t take it anymore, and we just give them different titles,” Labrador said. “I actually think you see the conservative, small government Republicans growing in number in the House of Representatives.”
And that would be a good sign for Labrador’s run for leadership — if he sticks around.
Labrador weighed the option of running against Idaho incumbent governor, Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter, before deciding against it. And with five children, many think Labrador isn’t suited for the congressional life.
Labrador said he doesn’t know how long he’ll remain around Washington. “But I don’t think my mission is finished here in Congress,” he said.
“I just need to keep pushing for change,” he continued.
And what does pushing for change mean?
“A lot of different things,” Labrador said, content to let the mystery linger.
“Somebody needs to come forward who is going to have a vision,” he said.
And who is that person?
“We’ll find out,” he said with a smirk.
“Anytime you’re a voice for change, you make a lot of enemies,” he noted.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. Corrected: 8:15 p.m. Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni explains here in full why we have corrected this story.