With a small purge of rebellious Republicans — mostly conservatives — from prominent committees Monday, Speaker John A. Boehner is sending a tough message ahead of the looming vote on a fiscal cliff deal.
David Schweikert of Arizona and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina were booted from the Financial Services Committee. Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas were removed from the Budget Committee; Huelskamp lost his place on the Agriculture Committee as well.
Huelskamp was undaunted. “The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions. This is clearly a vindictive move, and a sure sign that the GOP Establishment cannot handle disagreement,” he said in a statement.
But the message from leadership was clear.
“You want good things in Congress and to have a good career? Better play along nicely,” a GOP aide said, characterizing the message behind the moves.
The Republican Steering Committee made the decisions at a Monday meeting after reviewing a spreadsheet listing how often each GOP lawmaker had voted with leadership, three sources said.
The shuffling is the latest sign that Boehner is flexing his muscle with the right flank of his conference as he seeks a united front during tense fiscal cliff negotiations with President Barack Obama. The Ohio Republican had previously altered the makeup of the Steering Committee, increasing his own votes on the panel from four to five and reducing the number of representatives from the class of 2010 from two to one.
According to a GOP aide familiar with the situation, Schweikert was told that he was ousted in part because his “votes were not in lockstep with leadership.”
All of the lawmakers, apart from Jones, were rebellious right-wingers. Huelskamp and Amash both voted against the budget proposed by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin in committee and on the floor, saying it did not cut spending fast enough. They also voted against the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through the end of March.
The moves sparked a quick backlash on the right. Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham called Schweikert’s ouster “unthinkable.” “Congressmen Schweikert, Huelskamp, and Amash are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. “The dirty little secret in Congress is that while refusing to kowtow to the wishes of party leaders can sometimes cost you some perks in Washington, the taxpayers back home are grateful.”
Chocola compared the purge victims to conservative Sens. Jeff Flake, Patrick J. Toomey, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, all of whom have battled with their party’s leaders from time to time.
A similar dynamic was taking place in the Steering Committee’s action in filling vacancies on the Appropriations Committee, where new members in line with leadership replaced some of the chamber’s most unyielding critics of federal spending.
Among those leaving the committee at the end of this Congress are Flake, of Arizona, and Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming, who had both voted repeatedly against spending bills the committee’s GOP chairman and party leaders supported. Flake, an anti-earmark crusader and budget hawk, voted against all seven of the fiscal 2013 bills the committee brought to the floor. Lummis, also a budget hawk, rejected six, backing only the Defense spending bill.
Flake is leaving the House after winning election to the Senate, but Lummis asked to be released from the committee, according to her spokeswoman. Committee Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said Lummis was seeking to return to the Natural Resources Committee.
Four of the six new GOP appropriators for the 113th Congress already served in the House and have shown that they may be counted on to help leadership pass spending bills. All four voted for each of the seven fiscal 2013 appropriations bills that reached the floor in recent months, as well as for the current CR.
The four returning GOP House members named were Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Tom Rooney of Florida, and their records left at least one conservative outlet unimpressed.
RedState.org, a website that cheered Flake’s appointment to the Appropriations Committee when it was announced in 2010, called the new panel members “A Bunch of Squishes.”
One GOP leadership aide said, “Changes are made for a variety of reasons, most often at the request of committee chairs.”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, an outspoken conservative, was placed on the Financial Services Committee, something that a second leadership aide noted to demonstrate that voting record was not the only reason behind the changes.
Kerry Young and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.