Speaker John A. Boehner is heading into the 113th Congress with his job likely intact, but the new year hardly brings a fresh start for the embattled Republican leader.
Over the past few weeks, the Ohio lawmaker has been raked over the coals by members of all stripes within his own party — first by those seeking less spending in exchange for tax rate hikes, then by those seeking more spending for disaster aid.
The public thrashing came to a head Wednesday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a leading figure in the Republican party and last year’s keynote speaker at the House Republican retreat, blatantly accused Boehner of political cowardice for pulling a supplemental aid package for those affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Boehner may have been hearing the same words from different mouths had he brought the package to the floor. After he was cornered into allowing mostly Democrats to carry a fiscal cliff package that the Senate overwhelmingly passed, he made the calculation to wait until next Congress to bring up the supplemental. He has now promised to turn his attention to Sandy aid on Friday, the first full day of the new Congress.
The fiscal cliff and supplemental debacles show how difficult it is for the speaker to cut deals on big-ticket items, even as he has emerged as the de facto head of the national GOP.
Boehner’s saving grace may be that his position is so untenable that nobody else wants it. Indeed, nobody has emerged as a viable replacement, and if Boehner is handed back the gavel Thursday, it may be because of that fact, said Ron Bonjean, who was communications director for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
“This is likely to be a very difficult two years for the House Republican leadership because you have a lack of consensus within the conference about which direction to head in,” Bonjean said. “The speaker has seen good times and bad times in leadership and in the Republican ranks. I think there’s no other person who understands how difficult this is than Boehner.”
The same House Republicans that crossed the speaker and cut his legs out from under him in the fiscal cliff negotiations have shown no willingness to swallow tough votes, even if the result could be that the conference has less leverage in talks with Democrats.
Instead, they are resolved to continue pushing the speaker at every turn, emboldened by their influence.
“We brought this Republican Conference two things,” said Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., a member of the freshman class of 2010. “We brought them the majority. We brought them a message. They took the majority, obviously, but I don’t think they quite got the message.”
Some members of the new class look to be just as hard to control, if not more difficult. Rep.-elect Steve Stockman, R-Texas, for example, has already vowed to vote against Boehner for speaker on Thursday. “The ‘fiscal cliff’ spending package negotiated by Congressman Boehner was the final unacceptable straw,” he said in a statement.
Furthermore, Boehner will find little sympathy from Democrats, many of whom revel in casting the opposing party as “extremists.” As the last few votes of the 112th Congress showed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California still has an iron grip over her caucus. She was able to keep most, sometimes all, House Democrats in line against Boehner.
“Going forward, if it’s ‘my way or the highway,’ as most of the action Republicans took this Congress, they will find a unified, united Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “But if it’s a Republican Conference looking to find common ground, then they will find willing partners.”