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Is Boehner’s Position As Speaker In Danger?

John Boehner

At a morning press conference today, House Speaker John Boehner said that he was “not worried” about his speakership despite the inability of him and the rest of the House Leadership to wrangle enough Republican votes to support their so-called “Plan B” tax plan. Despite Boehner’s confidence, though, last night’s events have lead to much speculation about Boehner’s political future in the face of a House GOP Caucus that doesn’t seem to want to listen to him:

John Boehner’s speakership is suddenly “on the ropes,” says at least one outside conservative group after Thursday night’s head-spinning developments that saw the Republican leader scrap a vote on his own plan to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff” because not enough members of his party would support it.

“Speaker Boehner said today’s bill would pass. His credibility as a leader has evaporated,” declared Ron Meyer a spokesman for American Majority Action, a Virginia-based group, which has trained thousands of conservative activists and says it predates the tea party movement.

Meyer’s group was in contact with members and keeping track Thursday of the lack of support for Boehner’s bill, and by early evening was predicting correctly that a lack of conservative support for the speaker’s plan—more than 30 opposed it—meant it would not pass if voted on.

Boehner’s pulling back—at least for now—on floor consideration of his own Plan B option that would let taxes rise only on those with annual incomes of $1 million or higher further muddles Washington’s efforts to resolve a partisan stalemate over about $500 billion in year-end tax increases and spending cuts. Economists warn that going over the cliff could send the country into a recession.

Even before Boehner pulled his “Plan B” off the floor Thursday night and lawmakers departed for their holiday recess, American Majority had already this month launched an effort to oust Boehner as speaker, focusing on about 100 House Republicans members. The group sought to convince enough of them to vote for someone else in the upcoming speaker’s election on Jan. 3 that will kick off the new 113th congressional session.

Meyer’s group now says the lack of votes Thursday night for the House GOP leader’s Plan B tax measure is a vote of no confidence for Boehner by his conference.

This effort to unseat Boehner has always struck me as kind of idiotic. For one thing, Boehner had already effectively won the position in November when the House GOP Caucus conducted its leadership votes. Nobody stood up to challenge Boehner at that time. At this point, there is no real credible alternative to Boehner within the GOP. Eric Cantor is second in line in the party leadership, but he’s made his loyalty to Boehner very clear. Indeed, both he, Boehner, and GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy were involved in trying to corral votes for Plan B last night, as was Paul Ryan, who has often been mentioned as an alternative candidate for Speaker even though he’s shown no real interest in the position, or indeed any position in leadership other than Chairman of the Budget Committee. If you don’t have a credibly candidate, then you just end up casting meaningless votes for people who no chance of winning, such as several Demcorats did two years ago when they voted for Heath Schuler instead of Nancy Pelosi. That would be political stupidity on the part of the conservatives who are complaining about Boehner today.

The more important thing, I think, is to look at exactly what it is that conservatives on the hard right are upset about when it comes to John Boehner. For the most part, Boehner has been a hardline negotiator with the President and Harry Reid both this time around and during the debt ceiling negotiations during the summer of 2011. Indeed, Boehner was roundly criticized by many for being too much of a hardliner in his talks with the President last year. This time around, Boehner has quite honestly been as hard a negotiator as he can be given the fact that he really doesn’t hold a very good hand. One can criticize the whole “Plan B” idea, but it reflects a reality that the only way a fiscal cliff deal can be made is if Republicans agree to a tax rate increase on high income earners.

As for Boehner’s future, Ezra Klein thinks that last night’s events make a challenge when Congress reconvenes more likely:

A significant number of Boehner’s members clearly don’t trust his strategic instincts, they don’t feel personally bound to support him, they clearly disagree with his belief that tax rates must rise as part of a deal, and they, along with many other Republicans, must be humiliated after the shenanigans on the House floor this evening. Worse, they know that Boehner knows he’ll need Democratic support to get a budget deal done. That means “a cave,” at least from the perspective of the conservative bloc, is certain. That, too, will make a change of leadership appealing.

If a conservative spoiler runs, he or she could very possibly deny Boehner the 218 votes he needs to become speaker, clearing the way for a consensus candidate like Eric Cantor to unite the party. It’s hard to say exactly how likely that is. But it’s likelier than it was, say, this morning.

Steve Kornacki, meanwhile, wonders if Boehner even wants to be Speaker anymore:

The better question is whether this might be a moment of personal reckoning for Boehner. Being speaker has given him a nice title, lots of visibility, some stature and prestige, and a place in history. But he’s been a SINO – speaker-in-name-only. He can’t cut big deals with Obama, can’t cajole and threaten his members into line, and can’t even pass his own stick-it-to-Obama tax plan. This has been the story of his two-year run as speaker, and after last night there’s no reason to think the next two years will be any different. It’s not impossible to imagine Boehner in the next two weeks deciding he’s had enough and just walking away, leaving the gavel for some other unfortunate soul. (A potential variation of this idea: Boehner cuts a deal with Obama, faces down the wrath of the right, musters just enough GOP votes to pass it with Democratic help, then steps down as speaker, knowing he’ll be deposed on January 3.)

Basically, Boehner is probably safe as speaker if he wants to be. But more than ever, it hard to see why he wants to keep putting himself through this.

Since none of us can read Boehner’s mind, I can’t say whether or not Kornacki might be onto something here. I get the impression that Boehner intends to remain as Speaker and that the likelihood of a serious challenge between now and January 3rd is pretty low. At the same time, though, one has to wonder how the next two years are really going to be any different than the last two. The past six weeks have demonstrated quite aptly that conservatives have learned nothing at all from the 2012 elections and are unlikely to change their behavior in the 113th Congress. That means that the odds of any of the many issues we’re likely to face over the next two years in Congress going any more smoothly in Congress than they have to date. On some level, you’ve got to think that the whole thing has Boehner is rather frustrated about the whole thing.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Why does he even still want the job? Really great parking space? Hopes of assuming the presidency if al-Qaeda blows up Obama and Biden?

    He reminds me of Lincoln’s old joke:

    “You have heard,” said Lincoln, “about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked him how he liked it, and his reply was, ‘If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I would rather walk.”

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  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Kornacki beat me to it. Boehner is speaker in name only. He has little or no leverage over a caucus 90% of whom were elected from over gerrymandered seats and are in no danger of being defeated provided they continue to act crazy. The danger arises if they cease acting crazy. This is a recipe for chaos. The immediate crisis is ultimately going to have be solved by the Democratic votes in the house with an addition of some vulnerable Republicans. The same is going to have to happen with the debt ceiling. I have to believe some of the paymasters on Wall Street and in big business must be getting nervous about what they’ve let loose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. Mikey says:

    I don’t see how he can stay. I mean, he could just stubbornly hold on to the position, but why? What good would it do, and why the hell would he want to? The Tea Party idiots made it pretty plain they have no scruples about sticking a knife in his back and tossing him under the bus. I don’t see how he can even have a pretense of leadership when a big chunk of his caucus just refuses to listen to him.

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  4. Who the hell would replace him, or would want to?

    Being House GOP leader isn’t herding cats, it’s trying to lead a tribe of Yosemite Sams. It’s not Boehner’s fault they can’t agree to do anything. The whole point of being a Republican is to be mad at people. Accomplishment, even ideology, isn’t relevant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  5. Rick DeMent says:

    @reflectionephemeral:

    Right this is my question, if not Boehner, who? No one will be able to heard the cats, so why not Boehner.

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    Well, of course Boehner is going to make noises about his staying on as Speaker. What is he going to say? “No, I’m under attack by a bunch of rabid weasels with the ethics of the Borgia Popes and the sense of political reality of the Jacobins”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  7. legion says:

    He’s so powerless it’s becoming a running gag:

    It seems like only midday yesterday when Boehner said: “I’m convinced the president is unwilling to stand up to his own party.”

    But it’s mainly because the party he (in name, at least) leads simply will not unite behind anyone who has even the most tenuous grasp on reality. If the various splinter cells within the House GOP can even come together enough to throw him out, the only likely replacement would be Cantor, who is a) a bona fide moron and b) utterly incapable of out-thinking or out-maneuvering someone like Obama, but c) will happily tell the House caucus whatever lies they want to hear.

    Just the “leadership” they deserve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. stonetools says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Kornacki beat me to it. Boehner is speaker in name only. He has little or no leverage over a caucus 90% of whom were elected from over gerrymandered seats and are in no danger of being defeated provided they continue to act crazy. The danger arises if they cease acting crazy. This is a recipe for chaos.

    This. Whether Boehner is there is or not, the Republican Party will remain dysfunctional till the voters realize the giant mistake they made in 2010 and throw out all the teatards. Sadly, I don’t think those voters understand its a mistake-those voters actually believe the teatard ideology and voted for representatives who believe it too. Which means that the Republican Party will be dysfunctional till the next redistricting.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    I don’t see anyone who would replace him, but I don’t know why the Obama administration takes him seriously either — he cannot deliver the votes on his promises, and he cannot deliver the votes on his threats.

    He’s irrelevant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. lankyloo says:

    @Gustopher: I’ve often wondered the same thing. But then there just doesn’t seem to be any moderate group of Republicans in the House who Obama could deal with to try and get votes, and so we end up with the incredibly ridiculous situation we have. It would be funny if it weren’t so important.

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  11. john personna says:

    The more important thing, I think, is to look at exactly what it is that conservatives on the hard right are upset about when it comes to John Boehner. For the most part, Boehner has been a hardline negotiator with the President and Harry Reid both this time around and during the debt ceiling negotiations during the summer of 2011. Indeed, Boehner was roundly criticized by many for being too much of a hardliner in his talks with the President last year. This time around, Boehner has quite honestly been as hard a negotiator as he can be given the fact that he really doesn’t hold a very good hand.

    I think Doug underrates the Kabuki of it.

    Bohener has the job of going in, and pretending that he is negotiating. That is another thing entirely. He goes to the Whitehouse with plans that he knows he cannot carry in his own party. Why? He does that so that the story of his “negotiation” will play in the press. He does it so that “Republican views” can be positioned around his false flag.

    It should be obvious. It might border on carrying water to ignore the real dynamic.

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  12. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I don’t think it’s anywhere near that sophisticated. I think it is plain revenge, by the Tea Party, for Boehner’s actions in pulling their guys off committees. The Tea Party guys went along with “Plan B” until the last minute and then yanked their support. I think their hope is he will vacate and they will be able to install someone more sympathetic to them.

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  13. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I think Boehner’s always knows he doesn’t have the votes. I think he does his public circuit of negotiation knowing that. He knows it is Kabuki

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Why would he engage in Kabuki in which he ends up looking like a failure as a leader? What does he gain by purposely making himself irrelevant? He doesn’t come out of this looking good, his party doesn’t come out of it looking good, whatever position they had in negotiating is destroyed, and the GOP ends up being the people who pushed America over the fiscal cliff because they didn’t want to give 0.02% of the population a miniscule tax increase.

    The Tea Party types figured big in this, which should also indicate high-minded strategy and intelligence were not major factors.

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  15. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I think he does it because he tempers the GOP’s public image.

    Without his Kabuki the spoilers would have the whole image, and the less connected voter would now what’s really going on. He overstepped this naturally, trying for a vote on plan B.

    But as it is, average Joes can tune in to nightly news and hear that Obama and Boehner are in negotiation. Given the he-said, he-said, of the news, they’ll even play a clip of Boehner saying that he’s only asking Obama for somewhat reasonable things.

    He buries the lede that there is no there, there.

    It isn’t great this way, but it would be so much worse for the GOP if the Teas had the speakership and were saying what they really think.

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  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Mikey:

    Why would he engage in Kabuki in which he ends up looking like a failure as a leader?

    While there is an element of kabuki about these negotiations there is nothing remotely kabuki about this vote which Boehner believed would provide a figleaf for negotiations that are obviously going nowhere. It has failed publicly and disastrously…….

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  17. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I just don’t see how either Boehner or the GOP get anything positive out of this. Maybe Boehner thinks it makes him look more moderate, or something, but I doubt the “average Joes” will differentiate much between him and the rest of his party. Even if they believe Boehner was trying to get a deal, they’ll either not care or just view him as a weak and failed leader. I just can’t understand why he would even risk that. He had to think he had the votes.

    The Tea Party types have hated Boehner since the get-go and this was their golden opportunity to chop him off at the knees. And they took it. Now they can enjoy sticking to “principle” as they slip into permanent minority status. Morons.

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  18. Mikey says:

    This came up this morning on Breitbart.com, which means whenever you see “conservatives” mentioned it means “Tea Party.” And the “purge” of Tea Party Caucus members from committee assignments shows up in the third paragraph.

    I thought there would eventually be a “civil war” in the GOP between the Tea Party people and everyone else, but I didn’t think it would come so soon.

    HOUSE REPUBLICANS CIRCULATE PLAN TO OUST BOEHNER FROM SPEAKERSHIP

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  19. al-Ameda says:

    I honestly believe it’s time for Speaker Boehner to step down and let Eric Cantor drive the crazy train. It’s time for Cantor, or one of other true believers, someone like Justin Amish, to try to manage people like themselves. They’d get what they deserve.

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