Updated 6:53 p.m. | House Republicans may have left Washington for the next five weeks, but the divided conference's problems will be tagging along with them.
The GOP conference reached a new point of division this week, when North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows offered a resolution to remove John A. Boehner as speaker. Rather than deal with that resolution as swiftly and resolutely as possible, GOP leadership is going to let it play out over the summer break.
In Boehner's telling, not moving to table the resolution is a symbol of how insignificant it is. But if you listen to conservatives, leaders aren't touching the motion to vacate the chair because they're not sure how such a vote would shake out.
Boehner Defends Speakership Amid Party Unrest
Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie voted against Boehner in January and late Wednesday tweeted he had become a co-sponsor of the resolution. He earlier said several leadership-aligned members contacted him Tuesday night to ask how he would vote on the motion to vacate the chair — or, more specifically, if he'd support Boehner as speaker.
"The question was posed: If the vote for speaker were tomorrow, or if the vote on this resolution were tomorrow, which way would you vote?" Massie said.
That question is different from whether you'd vote to table the motion, but, according to Massie, "The answer either way is the same: They're in trouble."
There was chatter among Republicans Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that leadership should hold a vote on the resolution — most likely to table it — before leaving town. Letting the resolution sit out there over the August break could allow Boehner opponents to gather steam, with constituents perhaps pressuring representatives into supporting an effort to ditch Boehner. But leadership decided against striking the measure down.
In Boehner's telling Wednesday, "Frankly, it's not even deserving of a vote."
"This is one member, alright," the Ohio Republican said. "I got broad support amongst my colleagues."
But Massie had a different theory as to why there was no vote.
"I think it's too risky for 'em," he said. "I do think it would turn out not well for them."
Indeed, this doesn't seem to be just one rogue member.
"I don’t think he's working alone," Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., told reporters Wednesday. "I think there’s a lot of things you don’t know about that we can’t talk about.”
Jones voted against Boehner in January, and he confirmed he'd vote against him again if such a vote came to the floor.
Another Republican who voted against Boehner at the start of the 114th Congress, Rep. Ted Yoho or Florida, told CQ Roll Call Wednesday he believes all 25 of the Republicans who voted against Boehner in January would vote against the speaker again.
"Because nothing's changed as far as the direction of the conference," Yoho said.
But some aspects of the conference have changed. For one, there is now a House Freedom Caucus, of which Meadows is a founding member. And while HFC members told CQ Roll Call that this resolution to oust Boehner was not an HFC effort, it's clear the Freedom Caucus would be a major source of votes against the speaker should such a resolution get a vote.
Another founding member of the HFC, Idaho Republican Raúl R. Labrador, said the Meadows resolution was certainly not an official HFC undertaking. "In fact, he was discouraged by all of us from doing it," Labrador said. But that didn't mean he wouldn't vote to vacate the chair. "I think I would be likely to support it," he told CQ Roll Call.
The HFC is in a delicate position. Labrador said the Freedom Caucus wants to protect Meadows, should he face retribution such as being kicked out of the conference or having his subcommittee gavel taken away — which already happened once, until the HFC pressured Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz into giving it back.
But there also seems to be some recognition that some punishment is headed Meadows' way — and that it may even be fair. Asked if the HFC would protect Meadows from retribution, Labrador said, "it depends on what they try to do to him."
Labrador noted Meadows has undoubtedly put Boehner's speakership on the radar for GOP members' constituents. "We're definitely going to have that conversation now," he said.
And therein lies the difficulty for Boehner. His speakership is again a talking point, just as House Republicans go to negotiate with Democrats and the Senate over a fiscal-year-end spending deal and the debt ceiling.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wouldn't say how her members would vote on a motion to vacate the chair, holding out the possibility that Democratic votes could be used as leverage.
But that assumes conservatives could muster enough votes to endanger Boehner — and the answer of who could replace the Ohio Republican remains as elusive as ever.
Regardless, that this is the conversation going into August break — not GOP accomplishments or an Iran deal that has split Democrats — is frustrating for Republican leaders.
Samar Khurshid contributed to this report.
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