Best Non-Boehner Leadership News of 2015
House leadership news in 2015 was dominated by Speaker John A. Boehner’s decision to resign and Paul D. Ryan’s path to be his successor. but the year brought several other moments of leadership intrigue:
Beyond the Scalise Scandal: House Republicans started off the year defending Majority Whip Steve Scalise after word got around the Louisiana Republican spoke to a group of David Duke-affiliated white supremacists back in 2002. Quelling calls for the No. 3 House Republican to resign was probably not how House leaders wanted to start the year, but Scalise survived, and even got a vote of confidence from Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a colleague from the state legislature.
A Freedom Caucus is Born: Far-right members of the House split from the traditional confines of the Republican Study Committee to form the House Freedom Caucus in late January, signaling that they wanted a more united voice when disagreeing with leadership. Founded by nine members, the Freedom Caucus quickly grew to about 40 and hounded Boehner in particular. HFC member Mark Meadows, R-N.C., filed the motion to vacate the chair and oust Boehner, an act that contributed to the Ohio Republican’s resignation.
Homeland Season 2015: Democrats notched a win early in 2015 when Congress passed a “clean” bill funding the Homeland Security Department of Homeland Security after the department had been operating on a continuing resolution for months. Conservatives had hoped to use the funding bill to block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, but Democrats in Congress remained united in supporting the White House’s opposition to that strategy. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came up with a plan for passing a clean DHS funding bill that allowed Boehner to save face.
Ending an Annual Punting Exercise:
Both parties secured a victory in March when the House passed a bill to permanently fix the payment formula for Medicare doctors, ending an annual exercise that required Congress to scramble to find money to head off scheduled cuts. Boehner and other Republicans were happy the cost was partially offset by changing other parts of Medicare’s cost structure, part of their goal to overhaul entitlements. Democrats were happy to tout their success in heading off any other big cuts and giving doctors some peace of mind.
Punishing Protesters: When the House considered trade legislation in June, 33 conservatives voted against the rule to bring the bill to the floor, almost defeating it and embarrassing leadership. Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona, Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming were booted from the GOP whip team for voting no. Meadows was stripped of his Oversight subcommittee gavel but got it back a week later. Earlier in the year, Meadows was punished for voting against Boehner in the speaker election by having his congressional travel scheduled. He also was asked to remove his name from a Hezbollah sanctions bill to get it to the floor.
The Confederate Flag Battle: When GOP leadership sanctioned a vote on a Conferedate flag-related amendment to the Interior-Environment appropriations bill, they likely had no idea that decision would halt the appropriations process for the year. The amendment would have allowed Confederate flag imagery to remain displayed on graves on federal land in some circumstances. The move came after nine people were killed in a racially motivated shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Democrats said the amendment was tone deaf and pushed procedural votes to bring up a resolution to ban Confederate flag imagery on House grounds. The drama was enough to prevent Republicans from bring any more appropriations bills to the floor.
Changing Course on Iran: By September, leadership had learned something from past mistakes of ignoring conservatives’ concerns and altered their legislative strategy on Iran after the right flank threatened to vote against a rule to bring a disapproval resolution on the Iran nuclear deal to the floor. Conservatives wanted to be on record opposing the nuclear deal, but they also wanted to send a message that it would be illegal for Obama to carry out the agreement. So leadership set up a series of votes: passage of a resolution asserting that Obama did not follow the law promising Congress would have 60 days to review the deal; rejection of a resolution approving of the nuclear agreement; and passage of legislation to prevent the president from lifting any sanctions on Iran until Jan. 21, 2017.
We Need to Talk About Kevin: When Boehner announced his resignation, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy became speaker-in-waiting. But the California Republican effectively prevented his own ascension after an interview with Fox News in which he touted the Select Committee on Benghazi’s role in hurting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Amid dwindling support, McCarthy dropped out of the speaker’s race the day the conference was supposed to vote for their nominee. Many House Republicans saw the move as admirable –McCarthy said he wasn’t the candidate who could unite the conference – so that made it easy for McCarthy to stay on in the No. 2 slot.
Cleaning the Barn. Before Boehner left office, he said he would “clean the barn” for Ryan by negotiating a deal that avoided end-of-year endgame drama by lifting the debt limit and the sequester spending limits. The deal suspended the nation’s borrowing limit until early 2017 and raised the sequestration spending caps for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Ryan was able to use the deal, which he said “stinks,” to limit negotiations on the omnibus and exclude many of the policy riders Republicans sought. His GOP colleagues mostly acquiesced and the endgame concluded with little of the drama that defined previous years. Pelosi, who faced her own obstacles rallying support from her caucus for the omnibus, took her own victory lap after Democrats overwhelmingly supported the deal.
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