Boehner and House GOP Regroup After Tumultuous Speaker Election
After the election of John A. Boehner to a third term as speaker Tuesday, House Republicans start the 114th Congress in a similar fashion to the 113th: Conservatives are unhappy with leadership and leadership’s not too pleased with some conservatives.
Tuesday’s floor vote insurrection wasn’t particularly close — Boehner won re-election with 216 of the 408 votes cast. But in a strong statement of protest, 25 Republicans voted for someone else or voted present. (On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received 164 Democratic votes, with four members of her party voting for someone other than the California Democrat.)
The 25 Boehner rebels — a mix of familiar conservative foes, some GOP freshmen and a few Republicans who typically vote with Boehner but broke rank on the speaker vote — sent a message to Boehner and Republicans in general that the conference is not unified, despite the massive gains the speaker has overseen as the House’s No. 1 Republican since 2006.
In his remarks after retaking the speaker’s gavel, Boehner expressed hope for a renewed era of cooperation and congressional productivity.
“They say nothing’s going to be accomplished here, that the division is wider than ever, and so the gridlock will be even greater,” Boehner said. “And frankly: Fair enough. Skepticism of our government is healthy, and in our time, quite understandable.
“But one problem with saying, ‘It can’t be done,’ is that it already has been done, or at least started,” he continued.
Boehner said that, as speaker, all he asked for and expected was for members to “disagree without being disagreeable.” He eventually shed some of his characteristic tears as he talked about planting seeds for congressional achievements, cultivating the ground and “tak[ing] care of the pests.”
But the proverbial pests who have long prevented Boehner’s legislative harvest had a different message: That it was time for Boehner to go. And even though they were unsuccessful in that endeavor, Republicans sent a signal to leadership — 25 dissidents was certainly more than most in the Capitol expected.
Still, it was Boehner who won the day, and the speaker did win a few key votes on the floor. Longtime thorns in Boehner’s side, such as Reps. John Fleming of Louisiana, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Jim Jordan of Ohio voted for the current speaker, as did Reps. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, both of whom voted against Boehner in the 113th.
But Boehner also lost some surprising members. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and 11 other Republicans voted for Daniel Webster of Florida. Chris Gibson of New York voted for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. And freshman Republican Rod Blum, whose Iowa district is majority Democrat, also voted for Webster.
Whether there will be any sort of punishment for those votes remains to be seen, but even before Boehner was re-elected speaker on Tuesday, some members who had stated their intention to vote against him were already saying retribution was being meted out.
Randy Weber, who supported fellow Texas Republican Louie Gohmert for speaker, told CQ Roll Call he was removed as the lead sponsor on a bill that was supposed to be filed Tuesday.
During a small meeting of about 10 members of the Texas delegation to discuss the speaker’s race, Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told Weber the speaker’s office had called and said Weber could not be the sponsor of that legislation.
“The retaliation begins,” Weber said.
The speaker’s office categorically denied that Boehner or any member of his office had called Smith and told him to remove Weber as the lead sponsor.
Coincidentally, Webster and Richard Nugent of Florida were kicked off the Rules Committee for the 114th Congress. Both were on the panel previously — sometimes referred to as “the Speaker’s Committee” — and both voted Webster for speaker. The Rules package the House passed Tuesday, which names Rules Committee members, was amended so it did not include Webster and Nugent.
Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who voted against Boehner in the 113th Congress and voted for Webster Tuesday, said Boehner had maintained he wouldn’t retaliate against anybody who votes against him.
“Didn’t he say that?” Huelskamp asked incredulously. “I’ll just say there are a few people who don’t quite believe that.”
Huelskamp said it was a “shot” at his farming-heavy district that he was passed over for a spot on the Agriculture Committee, which he was kicked off of in the 113th Congress. And he later said after the vote that the full committee chairman of one of the panels he does sit on — either Small Business or Veterans’ Affairs — said he was going to fight for him to be a subcommittee chairman, but, after Huelskamp posted an inflammatory tweet, Huelskamp said he got a call from the chairman of the committee saying leadership had said no.
Still, Boehner has been through difficult times before, and sources with a sense of his attitude said the speaker was better suited this time to put the vote behind him. Even the conservatives who voted against Boehner seemed eager to move on.
“There’s nothing personal, nobody should have any … personal issues,” said Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who voted for Gohmert to be speaker. “It’s just an election.”
“Speaker Boehner is the speaker,” Bridenstine continued, “and we’re going to move forward and be productive.”
Some GOP strategists, however, saw in the Boehner challenge the potential for exacerbation of long-standing divisions in the Republican conference.
Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz was in the Capitol basement before the speaker vote lecturing GOP members who passed by on the need for unity.
Eric Cantor’s former communications director, Rory Cooper, who is now managing director of Purple Strategies, said after the vote that the effort to block Boehner was an unnecessary distraction.
“Rather than starting the year on the offensive against President [Barack] Obama’s liberal policies, attention was once again diverted to self-serving theatrics which weakens the ability for real and substantive conservative victories,” Cooper said via email.
Still, Bridenstine was as hopeful as ever.
“This is one election. It’s over,” he said. “We’re going to be as unified as we always are.”
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