John Boehner Faces A Tough Fall On Capitol Hill
Speaker John Boehner seems likely to see another leadership threat from fellow Republicans this fall.
John Boehner’s future as Speaker is under threat yet again:
Something has changed for John Boehner.
Figures in his close-knit circle of allies are starting to privately wonder whether he can survive an all-but-certain floor vote this fall to remain speaker of the House. And, for the first time, many top aides and lawmakers in the House do not believe he will run for another term as House leader in 2017.
The Boehner era might be coming to an end, they say.
“That’s a personal decision he has to make. I don’t know why he would want to, personally,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), when asked whether Boehner would run again. “But I do think that he feels, in his heart of hearts, he feels like he’s doing what’s best for this country — regardless of what the political consequences are. That says something about somebody.”
As Congress returns Tuesday for what could be one of the most challenging stretches of his nearly five years as speaker, POLITICO interviewed more than a dozen lawmakers and aides in direct contact with Boehner. Uniformly they sympathized with his plight: Caught between an intractable right flank and a Democratic president, they say he’s managed to get a remarkable amount done. But they also questioned Boehner’s viability in the near- and long-term — most of them spoke privately to protect their relationship with him — as the 65-year-old speaker approaches a quarter-century of service in the House.
Talk of Boehner’s possible demise is as old as his speakership, of course. The mild-tempered Ohio Republican has experienced wild swings in his political fortunes, going from hero to Republican-in-name-only in a matter of days. Earlier this year, roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers voted against his bid for a third term as speaker. Each time, Boehner has survived and returned to health.
But consider what he faces this fall: a quixotic but determined fight to defund Planned Parenthood, a potential government shutdown, a deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk default, and a contentious showdown over highway spending. Boehner’s aides say they expect a vote to oust him, formally known as a motion to vacate the chair.
Boehner allies privately acknowledge the daunting challenge. “Who knows?” one ally said when asked if Boehner could beat back a coup attempt. “I don’t know. I don’t know how you change this dynamic.”
Publicly, Boehner is projecting confidence and going about his business. His top advisers say that he sees the effort to push him out as a stunt unworthy of his attention. When his allies urged him to allow a vote on the motion to vacate in July — defeating it would be a show of strength, they argued — he rebuffed their advice. If it comes up again, his top aides say they are sure leadership would beat back the effort on the floor.
Though most Boehner allies believe he will be the one leading the charge over the next 15 months, his political future is in others’ hands more than ever before.
Top lawmakers and aides in leadership expect Meadows or another Boehner antagonist to try and force a vote before the end of the year on whether to keep Boehner as speaker.
Boehner is nearly certain to lose the support of the 25 lawmakers who voted against him last time, plus a few more who’ve grown frustrated with him. But Democrats would also get a say, and should they vote to keep Boehner as speaker — opposing him would invite chaos, and it’s anyone’s guess who they’d have to deal with as his replacement — Boehner would likely retain the gavel until January 2017, unless he decided to call it quits sooner. Meadows did not force a vote in July, but GOP leadership assumes someone will this fall.
As noted, this isn’t the first time that John Boehner’s position in the Republican leadership has been threatened by the hard right wing of the House GOP Caucus. While his selection as Speaker in the immediate wake of the 2010 election was relatively without controversy, it wasn’t long after that when we started to see the first signs of rebellion against Boehner by a Tea Party wing of the party that made it clear that they were willing to accept nothing less than total victory, and which shunned any talk of compromise. During the summer 2011 showdown over raising the debt ceiling, Boehner found himself constrained in negotiations with the White House by a party caucus that seemed willing to allow the country to default on its obligations to make a political point. Even when he managed to resolve the matter, it really only resulted in a temporary cessation of hostilities as the Tea Party crowd prepared for the next battle. By 2012, groups were funding efforts to defeat Boehner in a Republican Primary and there was already talk of selecting a new Speaker when the new Congress convened in January 2013. In the end, the promised rebellion against Boehner never materialized and he was easily re-elected Speaker with only a handful of dissenters who voted for other candidates or chose to vote “present.” The same thing happened in January of this year when there were yet another round of rumors that Boehner was under threat, only to see the challenge collapse.
This time around, the challenge comes in the form of a motion that was filed by one of Boehner’s harshest critics, North Carolina Senator Mark Meadows, who voted against Boehner in January has been at the center of many of the more high profile rebellions against leadership. Meadows motion would effectively seek to remove Boehner as Speaker, and if he were to get 28 of his fellow Republicans to join him, then Boehner could be in serious trouble. As noted, though, it may not mean the end of Boehner as Speaker since it’s probably that at least some House Democrats would choose to vote for Boehner if only to keep in as Speaker as opposed to whoever the Republican Party would end up putting in his place if the motion succeeded. Nonetheless, if that were the method by which Boehner survived it would seriously undermine his credibility within the Republican Caucus and make it hard for him and the rest of the leadership team to stay in power past the expiration of the current Congress at the end of 2016.
Given the fact that Boehner has pushed back against these attempted coups in the past, it’s likely that he will end up surviving whatever action ends up being taken on Meadows’ motion this fall. At the same time, though, the fact that this will all be happening at the same time that Congress deals with a host of issues that are likely rile the conservative base of the GOP could make for some tense time on Capitol Hill. As I’ve noted before, some Members of the House and Senate are pushing for a showdown over Federal funding for Planned Parenthood during the upcoming budget debate even though polling shows that a shutdown would end up hurting the GOP and that the GOP does not have the votes to defund Planned Parenthood. In addition, the fact that the upcoming vote on the Iran Nuclear Deal is destined to fail is likely to cause anger on the right, especially since there are those who believe the Republican leadership ceded defeat on this issue when they agreed to the format of the vote. That, combined with the fact that we are in the midst of an contentious Presidential nomination fight in the GOP likely means that Boehner and the leadership in the House are in for rough times ahead. Even if he survives this latest challenge,, one wonders how much longer Speaker Boehner will want to deal with these people.