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218: House Conservatives Agitate for Change in Leadership -- but Can They Take Boehner's Gavel?

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Conservatives are increasingly — and not so quietly — showing the early signs of a speakership revolt. But short of a sudden groundswell of opposition from the GOP rank and file, or a magic wand, Speaker John A. Boehner is the one who controls his fate.

Just don’t tell that to the Ohio Republican’s foes.

“I think pretty well everybody’s figured Mr. Boehner’s going to be gone, and the question is Cantor and McCarthy,” said Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “But most conservatives are saying it’s not just at the top; it’s all the way through.”

Huelskamp, who was more than an active player in the last Boehner coup, told CQ Roll Call there are “a lot of meetings going on” about who could be speaker in the 114th Congress, and if Boehner should decide to say, conservatives are discussing how to remove him.

“I think there’s efforts underway to do that,” Huelskamp said.

It’s common congressional knowledge that Huelskamp and Boehner aren’t the best of friends. Boehner stripped Huelskamp of his seat on Financial Services for the 113th. And Huelskamp had a whip list the last time conservatives tried to usurp the speakership. Recently asked about his relationship with Boehner, Huelskamp summed it up this way: “I don’t smoke and I don’t suntan.”

The plan to ditch Boehner sounds similar to the GOP rebellion that ousted Newt Gingrich at the end of 1998: present the speaker with so much opposition behind closed doors that he’s forced to step aside.

But unlike Gingrich, it’s not the rank-and-file opposing Boehner, it’s not GOP leaders; Boehner’s opposition is localized to the same dissident conservatives who have been a thorn in his side for years.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said his boss has “a better relationship with his members right now than at any time.”

“As he has said many times, he fully expects to be speaker again next Congress,” Buck said. And Boehner lieutenants backed those statements up.

Rep. Tom Cole, who said he didn’t want to “speculate on what I don’t think is going to happen,” told CQ Roll Call this week that Boehner’s standing is “awfully strong” within the GOP conference.

“Any effort, I think, to upset the conference’s decision is really not an attack on John Boehner; it’s an attack on the Republican conference,” Cole said. “It didn’t work last time, it’s not going to work the next time.”

Another Boehner ally, Republican Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, noted that it’s difficult to satisfy everyone, but he said Boehner is better than most at uniting the GOP conference.

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