Boehner Likely to Survive Carnage

Posted November 5, 2008 at 7:00pm

The bloodletting in House GOP leadership began quickly after their second straight drubbing at the polls, but House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) seemed likely to survive the carnage.

Boehner promised to rebuild the party and put an end to the losing as he announced his bid to keep his job. The decision by Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) to seek the job of Whip held by Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), instead of making a run for the top job, removed Boehner’s biggest threat.

Blunt appeared to be on his way out, although his office refused to confirm he had agreed to step down, while Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam’s (Fla.) unexpected decision to pre-emptively step aside created a scramble for his post.

Republicans said Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), former RSC Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) were campaigning for the third-ranking House GOP slot, with Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.) among several others mentioned as possible candidates.

Either Hensarling or Pence would instantly be the most conservative Member of leadership and clearly nudge, if not shove, the Conference significantly to the right. One GOP aide said Boehner had agreed to help clear the field for Pence, but Boehner’s office did not comment by press time.

There was plenty of action for other posts as well.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) faces off against at least one challenger — Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) — in his bid to secure a second term as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Cole had butted heads with Boehner and came under significant criticism for the NRCC’s inability to compete with Democrats in fundraising and for the parties’ loss of three special elections.

Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas) also announced he would take on Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.).

“I’ve sat on the sidelines as vice chair the last two years,” Burgess said, adding that he regrets not running for the post two years ago. “I just thought I had something to offer and it was up or out for me.”

For his part, McCotter penned an opinion piece Wednesday, saying his party had hit rock bottom and deserved to lose.

“Possessed of no vision, no principle, no purpose, and no appeal, we deserved our fate,” McCotter wrote in the American Spectator.

“Dead is the self-indulgent imbecility of ‘re-branding’ — as if the Republican Party was a corporate product to be repackaged, not a transformational political movement to be led,” McCotter said. “Despite what the media will tell you, and what so-called ‘conservative leaders’ will discuss ad nauseam during ‘secret’ meetings, this situation is not a crisis. It is an opportunity.”

Nonetheless, McCotter praised Boehner in an interview and said the defeat at the polls would have been much worse without Boehner’s fundraising and focus.

“Rock bottom could have been a lot deeper without John Boehner,” McCotter said, adding that he thought the Members would now be ready to follow Boehner on a bolder reform course than in the past.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), meanwhile, announced he was seeking the ranking membership of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee instead of seeking a leadership post.

Amid all the downballot maneuvering, the lack of a candidate for the top job to challenge Boehner was striking.

Republican insurgents were trying to draft Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) to take him on, according to one Republican Member involved, but they didn’t hold out much hope Ryan would agree to run.

Ryan has told reporters multiple times that he has no interest in running for leadership because of his interest in policy and his commitment to his young family. Ryan has said he does not relish the idea of barnstorming the country on behalf of Republican candidates or party fundraising, two of the GOP leader’s top responsibilities.

“Paul definitely doesn’t really want the job,” the Member acknowledged. But “I think there is no one better in the Conference than him.”

Ryan would have a broader appeal across the Conference than other conservatives who have sought the job previously, such as Pence or John Shadegg (Ariz.), the lawmaker said, and would be able to show the party faithful that House Republicans are looking to turn the page.

Conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) was the first publicly out of the gate calling for the House leadership team to be replaced.

“Much of the backroom maneuvering and media speculation in the coming weeks will focus on identifying new standard-bearers for the party,” Flake said Wednesday in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. “This is important, and after a second-straight drubbing, the House Republican leadership should be replaced. But the far more critical task is determining what standard these new leaders will bear.”

Flake called for weaning the party from earmarks, fighting intervention in the free markets and “getting back to first principles.”

For his part, Boehner promised an end to electoral failure.

“It’s time for the losing to stop. And my commitment to you is that it will,” Boehner said in a letter to his colleagues.

He also touted GOP legislative successes during the 110th Congress, including backing the troop surge in Iraq and blocking billions of dollars in proposed new spending by Democrats. And the months-long protest over the offshore drilling ban was “perhaps the most vivid glimpse of our potential,” he said.

Boehner vowed to fight back against Democrats, whose aim is to make Republicans “stand aside for the next two years, abandon our principles, and give the new administration and the Democratic leaders of Congress a free pass.”

“It ain’t gonna happen. It must not happen.”

Boehner warned against viewing Tuesday’s results as a repudiation of conservatism or a validation of big government.

“Instead of throwing in the towel, as our opponents demand, we must redouble our efforts to develop forward-looking solutions to the challenges Americans face — solutions rooted in the enduring principles of reform that define us as a party,” he wrote.

If re-elected as leader, Boehner pledged to “always be straight with you, and I’ll always be open to your ideas. You deserve nothing less.”

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.