House Conservatives Plotting Against Boehner Again?
To put it mildly, John Boehner has not had the easiest time as Speaker of the House. Nearly as soon as Republicans won control of the body in the 2010 elections, it became clear that Boehner, along with his fellow members of the House GOP Leadership Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, would have a difficult time holding the freshmen that took office in January 2011 in line thanks in large part due to the sway that Tea Party groups held over them. Indeed, it quickly became clear that the so-called “Tea Party Caucus” inside the House GOP included not only those elected in 2010 but also many long-standing members who quickly came to realize that bowing to the outside pressure of Tea Party groups was the best way to ensure they wouldn’t face a challenge from the right in the next primary. Because of this, Boehner has had great difficulty in steering House Republicans and has found himself forced to take hard-line positions that, quite honestly, he must know cannot succeed in negotiations with the President and the Democratic controlled Senate. This manifested itself most prominently, of course, in the bizarre back and forth surrounding the Debt Ceiling showdown during the summer of 2011 and, of course, the government shutdown last October that was made inevitable that Boehner himself had said publicly could never possibly succeed. Additionally, Boehner and the rest of the House Leadership have pursued a legislative agenda that could have been written by the Tea Party, highlighted of course by the more than 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act that, in the end, amounted to absolutely nothing.
Despite the fact that Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy have given the hard right wing of the party everything they wanted, though, they have all lived with targets on their back, with the biggest target being on Boehner himself. When the 113th Congress convened in January 2013, there were rumors that an effort would be made at that time to block Boehner’s re-election as Speaker and, while that effort failed to materialize, it was clearer than ever at that point just how little regard the Tea Party has for the Republican Speak of the House. Now, National Journal’s Tim Alberta reports on another plot to unseat the Speaker after the 2014 midterms:
Several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming to infiltrate the GOP leadership next year—possibly by forcing Speaker John Boehner to step aside immediately after November’s midterm elections.
The conservatives’ exasperation with leadership is well known. And now, in discreet dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and in winding, hypothetical-laced email chains, they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. Some say it’s enough to coalesce behind—and start whipping votes for—a single conservative leadership candidate. Others want to cut a deal with Majority Leader Eric Cantor: We’ll back you for speaker if you promise to bring aboard a conservative lieutenant.
But there’s a more audacious option on the table, according to conservatives involved in the deliberations. They say between 40 and 50 members have already committed verbally to electing a new speaker. If those numbers hold, organizers say, they could force Boehner to step aside as speaker in late November, when the incoming GOP conference meets for the first time, by showing him that he won’t have the votes to be reelected in January.
The masterminds of this mutiny are trying to stay in the shadows for as long as possible to avoid putting a target on their backs. But one Republican said the “nucleus”of the rebellion can be found inside the House Liberty Caucus, of which he and his comrades are members. This is not surprising, considering that some of the key players in that group—Justin Amash of Michigan, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—were among the 12 Republicans who refused to back Boehner’s reelection in January 2013.
Amash, chairman of the Liberty Caucus, warned at the time that there would be a “larger rebellion” down the road if Boehner’s leadership team did not bring conservatives into the fold. Such an insurrection never materialized, however, as Boehner deftly navigated a series of challenges last year and wound up winning over some of the malcontents.
But conservatives, increasingly irritated with what they see as a cautious approach taken by their leadership, are now adamant that Boehner’s tenure should expire with this Congress.
“There are no big ideas coming out of the conference. Our leadership expects to coast through this election by banking on everyone’s hatred for Obamacare,” said one Republican lawmaker who is organizing the rebellion. “There’s nothing big being done. We’re reshuffling chairs on the Titanic.”
Boehner isn’t the only one to raise the ire of this group. As the article notes, both Majority Leader Cantor and Majority Whip McCarthy are increasingly finding themselves with Tea Party targets on their pack. So even if Boehner were somehow ousted or decided to step aside, it’s unclear what would happen to the battle that would inevitably occur inside the GOP Caucus regarding the selection of new leadership.
It all sounds very threatening, and I’m sure there will be plenty written about the battles inside the House GOP Caucus between now and next January. However, it strikes me that Ryan Cooper is largely correct that there’s little chance that this effort would succeed:
Notice that the report contains almost no specifics about what the ultras want to actually do. They’re mad at Cantor for passing a “doc fix” bill by voice vote — a routine measure that in the pre-Tea Party days used to pass without a fuss — but they don’t outline what they would have done themselves. If history is any guide, they would have demanded something so cartoonishly extreme that it could never possibly pass the Senate or be signed by the president, then voted against it anyway for not being extreme enough.
Why pass a doomed-to-fail bill anyway? To “send a message,” or something, which is why the House has passed 50 pointless repeals of ObamaCare.
Indeed, the hapless campaign to oust Boehner reeks of a politics obsessed with slights and symbolism. This obsession to the almost total exclusion of a substantive agenda has become the signature trait of House ultras, which means the leadership has no choice but to treat them like cake-addled five-year-olds.
To be fair, the ultras have gotten quite a bit of what they say they want. But their aggression has also repeatedly come back to bite them. Twice in a row they’ve choked away control of the Senate by letting bug-eyed weirdos win state primaries. And lack of unity seriously undermines what power they do have, and has made Boehner possibly the weakest speaker of the House in American history.
The truth is that Boehner is probably the best speaker the ultras could reasonably ask for: he’s willing to indulge them to a seriously irresponsible degree, but not so much that they actually cause crippling damage to the nation. A true believer at the helm might actually allow the ultras to, say, default on the national debt for no reason.
Cooper’s last point is possibly the most important one. If someone other than John Boehner had been Speaker of the House for the past three years it is unlikely that the Tea Party crowd would find that things had turned out any better for them than they have. In large part, that’s because their complaints against Boehner, Cantor, and the other members of the leadership aren’t based on anything they’ve actually done or failed to do but on the fact that the results haven’t turned out as perfectly as the Tea Party would like. The primary reason for that, of course, is that Republicans only control the House of Representatives and that anything that becomes law has to pass the Senate and be signed into law by the President. Since both of those parts of the government it is inevitable that what ends up passing isn’t going to please hardcore conservatives, and that would be the case regardless of who was sitting in the Speakers chair for the past 39 months. As for what might happen after the 2014 midterms, that is going to depend on whether or not the GOP gains controls the Senate and, even then, the ability of Republicans to accomplish anything will be limited by the fact that Barack Obama is going to be President until January 20, 2017. Indeed, regardless of who the Speaker is the period between the midterms and the Presidential election is likely to be one in which both parties lay groundwork for the 2016 campaign rather than getting anything of substance done. There’s no reason to think that the present House GOP Leadership would fall short in that task given their record since January 2011.
In the end, these efforts to unseat Boehner and the rest of the leadership reveal more about the Tea Party and the hardcore conservative wing of the Republican Party than anything else. Despite all of the evidence showing that Boehner, Cantor, et al have gone above and beyond the call of duty to give the Tea Party what it wants, they still aren’t happy. This establishes that they either aren’t interested in governing, or that they are simply incapable of doing what needs to be done to govern in an era of divided government in a pluralistic democratic republic. Then again, we kind of already knew that didn’t we?