If Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., forces a floor vote to "vacate the chair" — or oust Speaker John A. Boehner — House Democrats will have to decide: Will they vote to help Boehner keep his gavel to maintain some semblance of order in the chamber? Or abandon the Ohio Republican, sit back and watch the GOP implode?
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer indicated Tuesday he wasn't interested in playing a game of hypotheticals, even on something that could have huge implications at a time when Boehner and other House Republican leaders are trying to prevent a hardline conservative contingent from spurring a government shutdown . "I understand that," Hoyer told reporters at a pen-and-pad briefing in response to pointed reminders from reporters that the Democrats would have a lot of power in determining Boehner's fate. "We'll see if there's a time to exercise that in an effective way."
In the meantime, the Maryland Democrat said, his caucus was content to let the Republicans deal with it themselves.
"It clearly is proof of the fact of what I've been saying for a long period of time, that the Republican Party is a deeply divided party ... but we're not going to react to it until something happens," Hoyer said. "I mean, it's pretty much a Republican fight. They're going to fight about it among their ranks and we'll see what happens."
Right before the House broke for the August recess, Meadows put the feelers out, quietly filing a resolution to strip Boehner of his speakership that took most of his colleagues by surprise. Now that Congress is back in session, Meadows could decide whether to reintroduce the resolution as "privileged," which under House rules would require lawmakers to take floor action on it, and inside a very narrow window of time.
In a phone interview with CQ Roll Call last week, Meadows suggested he would be watching Boehner carefully in the weeks ahead: “I think all of September is a huge pressure point, and can be a real time that people start looking at changes in leadership."
And while he stressed he wasn't counting votes or whipping the resolution to vacate the chair, Meadows did say he believed "a number of Democrats" would have to vote for Boehner for him to retain his position.
That means Meadows thinks there are now more anti-Boehner Republicans than the 25 who did not vote for the incumbent at the start of the 114th Congress.
Still, Hoyer wasn't willing to say anything to confirm or deny that speculation, though he didn't take a pass at an opportunity to slam GOP dysfunction more generally as the days tick down to a possible lapse in federal funding by the month's end.
"Everybody in America sees how deeply divided the Republican Party is, in Congress and in the presidential race," he said. "This is not a news flash to anyone."
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.