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In the GOP Conference, Anger All Around

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Boehner, right, appears unlikely to face any significant challenge to his position as speaker in the near term.

A GOP aide, and not to a conservative firebrand, said Boehner’s “speakership is on the line for sure. He took this deal on himself. They never told us what they were doing, they never had a messaging operation, and the rank and file at the end of the day is going to get the brunt of the blame. If I were [Majority Leader] Eric Cantor, I’d be making moves - lest he, too, get whacked in the process.”

Cantor and Boehner have largely put to rest the conflict between them that defined much of the first session of the 112th Congress. And when Boehner held a press conference Friday morning, the Virginia Republican was standing by his side the entire time.

“Cantor understands that as No. 2, his role is to support the speaker, and if you’re the No. 2 person and you’re not supporting the speaker, why would we promote you to the top spot?” said the first member. “Eric is also seeing how difficult these people are. He’s been at the leadership table a long time.”

Blackwell slammed Boehner’s gambit and warned the Ohio Republican against relying too heavily on Democrats to pass any fiscal cliff deal he negotiates with President Barack Obama.

“My hope would be that he would have learned his lesson and make peace and common cause with the grass-roots base of the party. If it doesn’t happen, I think we may break the Reagan coalition. And it will not be easy to recover from that,” Blackwell said.

Except that may be exactly what Boehner intends to do. The speaker’s allies see a silver lining in the episode: that the conservatives will learn to get in line. A GOP leadership aide said that when members have turned their back on the speaker, as they did during the debate over a payroll tax cut extension, they end up with significantly less Republican-friendly policy.

“When members don’t follow the strategic path that the speaker and leaders outline, the policy outcome is often worse as a result. It’s been a tough lesson to learn over the last two years, but these lessons actually strengthen the speaker’s standing among members, rather than weaken it,” the aide said.

Still, besides the ideological infighting, members expressed confusion about the strategy behind Boehner’s “plan B” gambit.

A key reason members resisted voting for the bill was that Republicans knew, and leadership acknowledged in closed-door meetings, that the legislation was meant to be a show of strength to boost leverage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he would not take it up and Obama threatened a veto.

“I mean, Harry Reid’s already said if we pass this bill tonight, he’s not going to take it up. And the president would veto it anyway. So what’s the point, folks?” Rep. John Fleming, R-LA, asked Thursday night after the vote was pulled.

Other Republicans suggested Boehner may have been counting on some Democratic votes, only to find that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California led a united front against him.

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