Midterm GOP Wave Quells Talk of Anti-Boehner Vote
House Republican leaders who have faced opposition from the most conservative wing of their own caucus in recent years may have stumbled across the best way to quash an intraparty revolt: Win.
Last week’s Election Day gains have quieted the talk of a mutiny against John A. Boehner that has obsessed some conservatives since a failed attempt to dethrone the speaker at the start of the 113th Congress. Even tea party members who have long spouted anti-Boehner bombast and candidates who hinted on the trail they would look elsewhere for leadership are sounding pleased with the status quo.
“I like what I’m seeing,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said Wednesday of Boehner.
Huelskamp has been one of the speaker’s most consistent Republican critics, voting against the Ohio Republican to be speaker on the floor in January 2013 and refusing, as recently as September, to say whether he would vote for him in the upcoming Congress.
After having a conversation with Boehner “in the last few days,” Huelskamp has done an about-face. The Kansan had been part of a group plotting to wrest the gavel from the speaker, but now he tells CQ Roll Call he’ll back Boehner Thursday and on the floor in January.
The GOP rout that gave the party its largest majority since Herbert Hoover was president sent a “strong message” to the Republicans, and “emboldens” Boehner, Huelskamp said.
That’s not to say he expects Republicans to tone down the agenda for their new moderate members who will have to defend difficult seats in 2016.
“The most unified we were in the last two years was when we did conservative things,” he said.
Huelskamp thinks leaders understand that the conference is firmly conservative and Republicans have proved they can win by running on a conservative agenda. “I don’t think that message is lost on our leadership,” he said.
The GOP conference elects its leaders Thursday, with no competition really expected for Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise or Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Of course, all eyes are really on the speaker elections at the start of the 114th Congress. That’s when Democrats and Republicans vote on the House floor and the magic number becomes 218 votes, not the roughly 125 votes that will be needed Thursday. (This week, Boehner and other leaders only need a majority of those voting — which includes the provisional Republican members attending orientation, some of whom might not be members after the recounts are completed.) When everything shakes out, Republicans are expected to hold around 248 seats at the start of the 114th Congress, meaning Boehner could have 30 Republicans vote against him on the floor and still take the gavel.
That’s wiggle room — and members know it.
There’s perhaps no clearer manifestation of the new-found confidence than with new members. At one point, hard-line conservative candidates were gleefully vowing to vote against Boehner.
But as the newly elected House members filtered into town for orientation, the candidates who threw flames on the campaign trail were dialing back the rhetoric.
One such representative-elect was Barry Loudermilk of Georgia. Loudermilk pledged this summer that he wouldn’t support Boehner for another leadership stint, in retaliation for letting a “clean” debt ceiling vote come to the House floor — he also said at the time that speakers should have term limits.
On Wednesday morning, Loudermilk sounded a softer tone.
“I’m not giving my vote away,” he told CQ Roll Call. “It’s not to be taken for granted. But we’re going to make that decision inside the meeting, and support our candidate that comes out of the meeting on the floor.”
That seems to mean he would support Boehner — at least on the floor, if not in conference.
Loudermilk even played the “we don’t even know for sure who’s running” card, even though it was all but certain by Wednesday that the current leadership slate would be running for re-election unopposed.
Rep.-elect Mark Walker of North Carolina said during a debate that Boehner had taken a “weak” approach in going after President Barack Obama, and said he hoped the conference would instead back Trey Gowdy for speaker.
But Walker didn’t mention Gowdy when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m sure a lot of that is hashed out in conference, but we’re willing to get behind whoever comes out of there,” Walker said.
Incoming freshman Gary Palmer of Alabama also said during the campaign that he wouldn’t vote for Boehner. But on Wednesday, he was taking a more nuanced position.
“Well, all I said was is that I wouldn’t vote for him in conference, so he understands that position,” Palmer said. “It was a campaign promise, and I’ve got to keep it.”
Palmer noted that he didn’t actually say he would vote against Boehner — “I just said I wouldn’t vote for him”— and he said he didn’t think there would be “any real issue” with the elections. “I think what you’re gonna see coming out of the conference is a united House and a very excited united House with a Republican Senate.”
“I think a conservative revolt is just not in the cards,” Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said. “It’s hard to complain about a leadership that takes you to the biggest majority in 80 years.”
“There are people who are not as happy, but that has nothing to do with the election,” said Pete Sessions of Texas, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. They might vote against the speaker to make a point, but the math doesn’t change.
“The Speaker hopes and expects to be the choice of his colleagues as the House Republican Conference’s nominee for Speaker on Thursday, and given our historic majority, he should be re-elected easily in January,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CQ Roll Call Wednesday.
There is a race for the GOP Policy Committee chairman, as James Lankford of Oklahoma leaves that position for his new Senate seat. That race seems to be coming down to Tom Reed of New York, Rob Woodall of Georgia and Luke Messer of Indiana — all of whom have a solid chance of securing the spot.
Still, while members described the competition in that race as a “vigorous,” there doesn’t seem to be any “acrimony,” according to Cole.
Emma Dumain, Emily Cahn, Abby Livingston and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.