A diverse bloc of defectors has emerged in the House GOP majority — and it’s not those who rode into office on the tea party wave last fall.
The real rabble-rousers in the Republican Conference are mostly moderates and seasoned lawmakers, not the freshmen who many predicted would be a problem caucus.
Those who have voted against their party at least 20 percent of the time include Tuesday Group members, those hailing from the Northeast and several appropriators, according to vote rankings by Congressional Quarterly as of April 15. Rep. Dave Reichert leads the pack, voting against the party position a quarter of the time.
“What a rebel,” the Washington state Republican deadpanned when asked about his record.
A four-term Member, Reichert has never won re-election with more than 53 percent and he hails from a Seattle suburban district that President Barack Obama carried with 57 percent in 2008. Reichert has always boasted a moderate voting record, but he only emerged as his party’s top defector this year. The former King County sheriff suggested the Conference’s shift to the right might explain his new status.
“I think there are certain factions within the Conference that certainly have presented themselves more toward the right end of the spectrum,” he said. “You can tell that by comments being made at our Conference meetings.”
Earlier this year, Reichert said, “there was a little more pressure applied to try to get me to maybe change my mind” on votes, but leadership has largely let him vote his own way. Several other lawmakers interviewed agreed, noting that Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has so far made good on his promise to let Members vote their conscience.
Rep. Peter King, who rebelled against his party earlier this year on a proposal to “retrieve” $178 million in funds paid to the United Nations, said Boehner’s even-handed style has made a difference in his own voting record, even though the New York Republican has voted against his party 13 percent of the time. The veteran lawmaker has served under three Republican Speakers, including former Reps. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Newt Gingrich (Ga.).
“To me, everything is personal. For me, I had a pretty hard time voting against Hastert because he’s a nice guy, and Boehner’s a nice guy,” King said.
“But for me,” he said with a grin, “voting against Gingrich was fun.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel noted that his boss “has made it clear that he wants the House to work its will, and for every Member to have the opportunity to participate fully as legislators in as open a process as possible.”
Leaders have held listening sessions and tutorials for Members as a way to keep an open process and buy goodwill among the rank and file. Aides note the tactic has helped during contentious debates, although it’s currently being tested as leaders struggle to unify the party behind any position on the debt limit.