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With internally divisive fights over religion and the budget looming, Speaker John Boehner's leadership is showing increasing signs of wear and tear, according to GOP lawmakers who warn that his often laissez-faire approach has encouraged dissension and open defiance among the rank and file.
Since taking the gavel, the Ohio Republican has explicitly pursued an approach to leadership that rejects the traditional top-down, carrot-and-stick approach of former Speakers, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in favor of a more hands-off style.
But that decision has come at a cost to Boehner. While his continued leadership of the party is not in doubt, in multiple interviews his colleagues said the Speaker's desire to use a more open approach has made shepherding his raucous Conference increasingly difficult.
Boehner is facing growing resistance from moderates over his plan to bring legislation to the floor as part of the fight over the Obama administration's contraception insurance rule. He faces an even more difficult challenge of dealing with conservatives who are demanding a new round of cuts as part of this year's budget resolution that would work at cross purposes with last summer's debt deal, which already set spending levels.
And Republicans said they are concerned things are about to get a whole lot messier, potentially unnecessarily so.
His leadership leads "to a climate ... [of] 'Eh, who cares. What's he going to do to me?'" one Republican lawmaker said, adding that at some point Members will simply say, "Sorry, we're not going back to that well."
A second Republican said Boehner's style is not bad in and of itself but is simply ill-suited to a Conference that is disinclined to accept traditional compromises and the give-and-take that are the hallmarks of a legislative body.
"In any other era, he'd be doing an amazing job," this Republican said.
One GOP lawmaker who has worked closely with Boehner on some of the more high-profile fights of the past year agreed.
"He's got a very open style of leadership, and I think that encourages people to sometimes talk openly and in public," leading to breakdowns like the current one over the transportation funding bill, the lawmaker said.
Democrats were far harsher.
"In some ways, I think John Boehner is the weakest Speaker in living memory, and I don't mean that as a partisan comment. The reason that's true isn't so much because of some innate defect of his, it is because he oversees an unstable majority," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said.