No, Boehner Isn’t Going To Lose His Job As Speaker
John Boehner's position as Speaker of the House seems quite secure.
Last night’s vote in the House Of Representatives to approve the deal brokered by Senators Reid and McConnell to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling ended up with a total of 285 in favor and 144 against, a fairly solid number of yes votes and actually more than I was expecting the measure to get in the end. Hidden inside those numbers, though, were signs of discontent in the Republican House Caucus. Of the yes votes, only 87 came from Republicans. Every single one of the no votes, meanwhile, all 144 of them, came from Republicans. This means that more than 62% of the Republicans who voted last night voted against the bill, while only 38% of the caucus voted for it. Had it not been for the votes of House Democrats never would have passed. This, of course, is only the latest time this year that Speaker Boehner has violated the so-called Hastert Rule, which states that Republican leadership should not bring a bill to the floor unless it has the support of a “majority of the majority.” Added to that is the fact that the final version of the bill was openly opposed by conservative groups such as Heritage Action, which actually “key voted” the bill, meaning that it would be using a yes vote on the bill against members in its “scoring” process. Most of the prominent members of the Tea Party Caucus voted against the measure, of course, but so did some members of Leadership such as Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
All of this, combined with the manner in which the GOP Caucus under cut Boehner’s efforts to put together a House version of the kind of deal that Reid and McConnell had been working on since the beginning of the week, has led to much speculation in the media about the political future of the Speaker of the House. As it turns out, though, Boehner’s position at the head of the House Republican Caucus not only doesn’t appear to be vulnerable at the moment, but it actually appears to have been strengthened:
House conservatives said Wednesday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is in no danger of losing his post, despite presiding over a Republican defeat in the fight over government funding and the debt ceiling.
“I don’t think Speaker Boehner has anything to worry about right now,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a conservative who refused to vote for Boehner in January.
Speaking at an event with fellow conservatives, Labrador said he was “really proud” of Boehner’s handling of the fiscal crisis and that, over the last 2 1/2 weeks, “he has been the kind of Speaker I’ve been looking for for the last 2 1/2 years.”
Boehner acceded to conservative demands that the House Republicans press a shutdown fight over the 2010 healthcare law, but those same members repeatedly opposed his proposals to raise the debt ceiling in the last month. The battle culminated Wednesday night when the Speaker scrapped a final plan to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling because he didn’t have sufficient Republican support.
The representative leading the ObamaCare defunding fight in the House said Wednesday that nobody “questions (Boehner’s) leadership.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told The Hill, “Conservatives feel like he’s fought the good fight. … You can quote me on that.”
The House is now expected to accept a Senate agreement, but the bill could pass without the support of a majority of Republicans.
Other conservatives confirmed that they expected no attempt to oust Boehner.
“There is absolutely no talk of anything along those lines. No talk,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee who frequently opposes leadership proposals.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Boehner had enhanced his standing in the last month and predicted that conservative clout would not diminish in the fallout from the shutdown fight.
“I have been so pleased and proud of John Boehner during the course of the last month that I have renewed confidence that conservatives will have an opportunity to influence what happens in our conference,” Lummis said.
National Review’s Jonathan Strong reports similar sentiment from House conservatives that he’s talked to as do Caitlan Huey-Burns at RealClearPolitics and Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post. There’s perhaps no better indication of the extent to which House conservatives appear to not holding things against Boehner is the reception he got at the final House GOP meeting before last night’s vote:
At the last GOP conference meeting of the two-week government shutdown, no lawmakers went to the microphones to give their take.
Instead, after Speaker John Boehner told Republicans they had “fought the good fight,” they all rose up to offer a standing ovation. “It was one of the easiest meetings we’ve ever had,” says Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.
“I think he has strengthened his position in leadership,” Representative John Fleming says about Boehner. “He hung in there with us. He’s been reluctant to go to these fights and now that we have stood up and fought for our values and he’s been there with us, leading, I think his stock has risen tremendously. He has great security as our leader and our speaker.”
In the end, this isn’t really all that surprising. Whether because he agrees with them or, more likely, to preserve his own position with the leadership, Boehner spent the better part of the past week doing his best to demonstrate to his colleagues on the right side of the GOP Caucus that he was going along with what they wanted. Even though he had said several times during the summer that the “Defund Obamacare” movement was making a mistake by trying to tie the Affordable Care Act to the Federal Budget, in the end he and the rest of the leadership pushed forward three separate Continuing Resolutions that sought to defund, delay, or modify the law in some way or another, all of which they had to know would be rejected by the Senate and the President. After the shutdown happened, he let the GOP push forward with a similarly doomed effort to provide piecemeal funding for various parts of the Federal Government while publicly going forward with an effort to try to force the President and the Senate Democrats to the bargaining table. It was only when the polls started turning massively negative for the GOP and the debt ceiling deadline came closer and closer, that Boehner began to show signs that he was willing to split from GOP talking points to get the job done. For all intents and purposes, House conservatives really had nothing to complain about when it came to Boehner throughout this entire ordeal. He pretty much did everything possible to pursue their goals, even when it was apparent that he didn’t think they were proceeding in a wise. or productive matter. Viewed from the outside, Boehner perhaps deserves some criticism for his partisanship, but that’s the nature of politics and it would’ve been foolish to expect him, or any other Speaker, to act against the wishes of his caucus. Instead, he did what they asked of him until they had finally learned the lesson that their strategy had failed. Then, he let most of them vote against a bill that absolutely needed to pass so that they could preserve their own political futures. Who could ask for anything more?
The other factor that makes a real challenge against Boehner virtually unlikely is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be anyone to take his place that the hard line conservatives would find acceptable. Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy have somewhat better relationships with that group that Boehner does, but they’re still part of leadership and have largely been Boehner loyalists throughout all of this, both of them voted for the bill last night for example. Paul Ryan is a name that has been mentioned but he’s expressed no real interest in being part of leadership, instead focusing on his Chairmanship of the Budget Committee. Additionally, Ryan’s own record in the House is arguably closer to Boehner’s than the Tea Party’s so it’s unclear that they’d be any happier with him. Looking at the Caucus itself, it’s mostly made up of people who haven’t been in Congress very long and/or don’t have the kind of relationships with other members of the caucus that would make it possible for them to even mount a serious bid to challenge Boehner. Finally, given the difficulties that Boehner has had throughout his tenure with a caucus whose loyalty is clearly focused outside the beltway, one wonders if anyone in the House GOP would want the job other than him.
So, despite the fact that John Boehner let a bill pass through Congress that is highly unpopular with a very vocal wing of his party, there really doesn’t appear to be any damage done to his position as Speaker. Indeed, to the extent that conservatives now see him as they guy who went to the mat for them, he’s probably strengthened his position, and that’s something that may help him in the battles to come.