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.
King’s votes against the party position were mostly on amendments to the Republicans’ yearlong continuing resolution that sought $61 billion in cuts. Boehner allowed an open debate process on the floor that led to votes on nearly 100 amendments. King did join his party to vote for final passage and later for the CR that eventually became law after heated negotiations between House Republicans and Senate Democrats.
“I don’t think on any key vote I’ve been off,” King said. “But if I have to be, I will be.”
Rep. Michael Grimm, another New York Republican, is just one of a dozen freshmen to make the list of top defectors in the GOP Conference. The outspoken lawmaker, however, is part of Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) whip team and in an interview said, “I’m certainly not doing it just to be a thorn in the side of leadership.”
Rep. Greg Walden, a close Boehner ally, was quick to debunk the “perception that it’s the freshmen against the leadership.” Instead, the Oregon Republican noted that conservatives have required the most courting this year.
Asked if that was a surprise, Walden said, “Nope, and here’s why: This is the biggest majority we’ve had in a very, very long time, so that brings with it a diversity of philosophy.”
Just six of the party’s top 40 defectors voted against the long-term CR that passed in March and drew the ire of many conservatives, prompting 54 of them to vote against the measure. Republicans had to rely on significant Democratic turnout for that contentious floor vote, and some suggest a similar situation will arise when the House considers a debt limit increase. Republican Study Committee members have called for sweeping cuts that would likely be watered down in negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House, and while details are far from settled, Boehner could end up calling on Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for assistance.
The Democrats’ top vote counter acknowledged the challenge Boehner and GOP leaders have in the debt limit debate and in managing a diverse caucus that includes 87 freshmen. The one-time Majority Leader said, “In the majority, the consequences of not getting to 218 are much greater than the consequences of not getting 193.”
“In the majority, you have to govern, you have to take responsibility,” Hoyer said. “And hopefully our Republican colleagues will agree to do that, and especially on the debt limit.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) agreed. Even though the Tuesday Group leader has voted against his party 13 percent of the time this year, he said sticking together on the key votes will amount to more leverage, particularly when it comes to the debt limit.