Speaker John A. Boehner has long insisted that the House Republican Conference be allowed to work its will. Now, the Ohio Republican is doing everything he can to ensure his will holds more credence in the 113th Congress.
Boehner is consolidating his power ahead of what will likely be a contentious legislative session during which every vote will be crucial to getting Republicans the best possible deal from President Barack Obama and the resurgent congressional Democrats.
Like an old mob movie, those who have crossed the speaker are mysteriously disappearing left and right, while those who have pledged fealty to him are being rewarded with plum positions and important titles.
Case in point, Boehner tightened the screws Thursday on the Republican Steering Committee, the influential and secretive panel of leaders, committee chairmen and regional representatives who make decisions about committee assignments and chairmanships.
And in leadership elections, his preferred candidates won out this week, ensuring a more unified team when it comes to internal leadership deliberations and influencing the rest of the conference to support tough legislation.
“Absolutely,” one leadership aide said, suggesting that Boehner is taking control because “it gives him more leverage” when dealing with Democrats. “It frankly only strengthens the hand of House Republicans in general when he’s dealing with the president,” the aide added.
Boehner had allowed the incoming class of 2010 to have an unprecedented three seats on the steering committee, an olive branch designed to foster goodwill with the group that made up about one-third of the entire caucus.
Not so next year. According to documents obtained by Roll Call, the steering committee will now have just one representative from the class of 2010. Moreover, Boehner will be able to cast five votes on the panel, up from the four he had in the 112th Congress.
Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, who will be the class of 2010 representative to the steering committee in the 113th Congress, fought the move. He argued that with more than 70 members in the class next year, they deserve at least two steering committee slots.
But the freshman class has been unruly at times, with many members voting against Boehner’s key priorities, including a 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. The move gives Boehner more centralized power over which members get plum committee assignments and which are relegated to grunt work.
The speaker’s office declined to comment.
The election of the next chairman of the Republican Study Committee also swung Boehner’s way Thursday. The group notably rankled leadership early in the 112th Congress when emails came to light showing RSC staff working with outside groups to undercut the speaker.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was vice chairman of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, won the chairmanship in an upset. He ran a campaign promising to put an end to the internal squabbles and work more closely with leadership to get results.
“There have been times that I’ve voted against some big bills that John Boehner’s brought forward and asked me to support, and there’s been times I’ve supported them,” Scalise said after the election. “At the same time, I want to unite conservatives to get some things done.”
Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia was the consensus pick among the founding members of the RSC — usually an endorsement that portends victory. Graves was perceived by many observers, however, to be more inclined to continue the RSC’s attempts to undermine leadership positions in favor of more conservative alternatives.
“It was a shock,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., regarding his delegation colleague losing the leadership bid.
He stopped short of calling the election a victory for Boehner but said that in the halls of power, you never know exactly who is exerting their influence.
“Everybody’s got their favorites up here, and you have people that say, ‘Well, I’m not going to get involved in it,’ but they’re in it up to their eyeballs. So it’s just hard to say who was doing the backchannels and who wasn’t,” Westmoreland said.
In leadership elections Wednesday, things mostly went Boehner’s way, too.
Though the speaker was careful to remain neutral publicly, it was no secret that in the race for conference chairman, he favored current Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington over Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.
Price had sometimes sided with the rambunctious wing of the Republican Conference while McMorris Rodgers has been a loyal Boehner foot soldier.
In order to avoid a fight, Boehner even offered Price a deal to get out of the race, which would have given him a seat in leadership had he accepted and pledged to vote along with the rest of leadership. Price declined, however, and when the votes were tallied Wednesday, McMorris Rodgers — and by default Boehner — emerged victorious. The seat Price would have occupied, chairman of elected leadership, has been eliminated from the roster.