No Contest for a GOP Speaker
House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) made clear at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he hopes to upgrade his title to Speaker if Republicans reclaim the House in 2010.
And at this point, few in the Republican Conference think anyone will stand in his way.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you help elect a Republican Congress this November, and I’m fortunate enough to be elected Speaker of the House, I pledge to you right here and now: We’re going to run the House differently,” Boehner promised attendees at the annual CPAC.
Republican Members interviewed last week said that should the GOP win the 40 House seats necessary to wrest the majority from Democratic control, Boehner would not have to mount much of a campaign for Speaker, because he will have proven his ability to lead.
“I would say he will earn the Speakership, and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) said. “I mean, our Conference would realize he really earned this because of his work, because of his leadership, because of his vision.”
Those close to Boehner say he hasn’t yet launched a campaign for Speaker, despite making public his pledge to be a much different House leader than Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“He’s certainly not running for Speaker,” Rep. Patrick Tiberi (Ohio) said. “I think most Members would agree that he’s worked tirelessly on the policy and political side as our leader to put us in the best position possible.”
Boehner confidant Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) conceded that someone could mount a challenge but predicted it would be nominal at best.
“Oh, who knows, there’s always a chance,” he said. “He had a challenge last time, but it wasn’t serious.”
LaTourette said Boehner’s role in leading the party out of the political wilderness after three election cycles would make him the “prohibitive favorite” for the job.
“I would be hard-pressed to believe if anybody but Boehner would be the Speaker,” he said.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), arguably the only Member with the fundraising and leadership credentials to challenge Boehner, said he agreed that his Ohio colleague was the obvious choice.
“We are all fighting on the same team,” Cantor said.
And while sometimes the lure of power could change a politician’s ambitions — as it did when former Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) mounted an unexpected challenge to then-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in 2006 — one Republican strategist said Cantor would not succumb to that temptation.
“That’s not Cantor’s style,” the strategist said. “He’ll earn the job. He’s not going to try to take it from someone else.”
The strategist added that Boehner’s team had done an excellent job making the case for a future bid for Speaker.
“There’s no chink in Boehner’s armor,” the strategist said.
Since he defeated Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) in 2006 in the race to replace former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), Boehner has moved steadily to protect his position in leadership.
He has helped his allies become ranking members through his influence in the Republican Steering Committee and has brought former rivals, such as Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), into the leadership circle.
“I support Boehner for Speaker. I think he has led with vision and principle, and I look forward to voting for John Boehner for Speaker of the House,” Pence said. “We are going to take back the Congress, and the Republican leader who brought us there is going to be Speaker of the House.”
Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), another one-time Boehner rival, said Boehner’s hard work for the party would lead to the Speakership if the GOP wins big.
“He’s done a good job as Minority Leader, and people that work hard to get us back in the majority I think should be rewarded,” Barton said.
Boehner headlined 127 events around the country in 2009 and raised $13.7 million compared with $23 million in the 2007-08 cycle.
But Boehner’s success is staked as much to the raw number of Republicans who are elected to the House in November as it is to the GOP agenda that his leadership team has begun to craft.
Former Majority Leader Dick Armey (Texas) said if anyone in the current Congress could put together a new “Contract With America” — something many Republicans say is needed once again — it would be Boehner.
“John Boehner is the last person still standing in Congress who understood what the Contract of America was and was committed to it and executed it the first time,” Armey told Roll Call. “If anybody can get it [done], it’s John Boehner. He’s been there and he’s stayed true to it.”
Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who was tapped by Boehner to lead the effort to craft the agenda, said the document temporarily titled the “Commitment to America,” was not about Boehner or current party leadership.
“Boehner and I work together on this, laying out and making sure the process is open,” McCarthy said. “This is not a Republican platform. This is really about saving America; this is about solutions.”
McCarthy said he hopes to spend most of the year traveling the country to gather ideas for the new agenda.
Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said a bold agenda and the possibility of a Republican majority were undeniably linked.
“It’s difficult to see how we’ll get the majority unless we really take some positions as a caucus that are further than we’ve been willing to go so far in that way. If we do, it will be likely because [Boehner is] leading us,” he said.
But not all Republicans were thrilled with the inevitability of Speaker Boehner.
“Even though there is a great desire for aggressive, bolder new leadership, I don’t see how anybody would overtake Leader Boehner if you took 40 seats,” said one Member, who requested anonymity. “I don’t see that happening. I think by virtue of being at the right place at the right time he’ll become Speaker.”
Rep. Steve King (Iowa) argued that a potential Boehner Speakership could depend on the views of a new class of Republicans, and he added that focusing on future leadership races would not help them get elected.
“I’m really thinking about winning the majority, and I think that if we are advertising to the public that our goal is to elect an individual Speaker, that’s not going to resonate to people who want to have constitutional conservatives running this Congress,” he said. “I don’t think that there is a contradiction there, but I just mean that it shifts the focus.”