Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Boehner Faces First Defections

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner experienced a series of legislative setbacks this week, showing that party unity isn’t always a given in the majority.

One Republican lawmaker said leaders were questioned during the closed-door Conference meeting Wednesday morning about whether they erred when they decided to bring up the PATRIOT Act extension under suspension of the rules, a process that requires a two-thirds vote for passage. 

“We’re 30 days into the majority,” the GOP Member said. “I think the fair thing to say is that the leadership is thinking through how to approach bills like this. It’s very easy, when you bring things up under suspension, if the minority wants to take it down, they can. We used to do that ... so that was kind of a learning day for us.” 

Republican leaders said they will try once again to pass the PATRIOT Act and the trade bill under a rule, which would require just a simple majority for passage. A GOP leadership aide said Wednesday afternoon that there would be another attempt to extend the PATRIOT Act provisions before they expire at the end of the month. 

Even if Republicans are able to repair the damage of this week, one GOP aide said the party faces more significant tests in the coming weeks. The GOP House majority claims 87 new Members, many of whom ran on a conservative tea-party-inspired platform.

“This new breed of freshmen don’t feel any sense of accountability to party structure,” the aide said. “I think you are going to have a difference [of opinion] on a lot of things.”

This aide cited as examples the upcoming votes on the budget and the debt ceiling. Members of the Tea Party Caucus and the conservative Republican Study Committee are pressing for deeper cuts than what GOP leaders have proposed, and they have not ruled out defections if they don’t get their way. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the debt limit didn’t pass,” the aide said.

Rep. Steve King signaled that conservatives are emboldened to take on Republican leadership again to press for their priorities. 

“I want to make this clear: I want leadership to succeed ... and I want the conservative agenda to also succeed. To the extent that those can be compatible, that’s what I’m for,” the Iowa Republican said, adding, “The conservative faction wants to get things done like cut spending dramatically, unfund[ing] Obamacare and take a look at this debt ceiling.”  

Republicans leaders think they are well-positioned to get the votes that they need on the CR — funding for the government expires March 4 — and have pointed out that leadership does not whip bills on the suspension calendar, such as those that hit snags this week.

Republicans say Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is already engaged in conversations with rank-and-file Members ahead of the next week’s CR debate and on the debt ceiling. 

Meanwhile, Democrats seemed all too pleased to watch Republicans struggle to find their footing.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson said the GOP is in “disarray.”

“I don’t think they really have found their center yet in terms of from which they are going to govern,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “They have the responsibility of governing, and it seems right now they are coming apart at the seams.”

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