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GOP Insurgents Scramble for Anti-Boehner Votes

Boehner faces another shutdown scenario. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boehner faces another shutdown scenario. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

John A. Boehner is expected to be re-elected as speaker Tuesday — but that doesn’t mean some conservatives in his party aren’t grasping for a miracle.  

There are now about a dozen Republicans who have publicly stated they won’t vote for Boehner to be speaker. Those insurgents, however, aren’t quite surprises to the speaker or his staff. Many are the same Republicans who voted against him at the start of the 113th Congress.  

Others who voted for Boehner last time but say they won’t this time include Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Steve King of Iowa. And the new GOP members who say they will oppose Boehner, Dave Brat of Virginia and Gary Palmer of Alabama, aren’t exactly shockers either.  

Sources said they had seen lists circulating around Capitol offices with more than 20 Republicans who plan on voting against Boehner. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona told CQ Roll Call Monday night there’d be more than 20 Republicans voting against Boehner. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said there’d be 50, “if it weren’t for the C-SPAN cameras.”  

After revelations surfaced last week that one of Boehner’s top lieutenants, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, spoke 12 years ago to a white supremacist group, there were concerns in the GOP’s tea party wing that the Louisiana Republican, considered the most conservative member of leadership, would get the ax.  

But Scalise increasingly looks likely to survive — and the scandal doesn’t seem to have scared off the rest of the Republican conference from supporting Boehner and his team.  

On Monday, Boehner’s office said the speaker and his staff have reached out to virtually every House Republican since the elections, “and that continues today.”  

“Rep. Boehner was selected as the House Republican Conference’s choice for speaker in November, and he expects to be elected by the whole House this week,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CQ Roll Call.  

Earlier Monday, the speaker’s staff seemed more focused on the logistics of the following day’s swearing-in ceremonies with new members than with the leadership election. But by Monday evening there were signs Team Boehner was taking steps to tamp down the possibility of a Tuesday insurrection.  

Boehner allies insist the Ohio Republican has no serious challenger for the job.  

There are just too many Republicans — “higher than 130,” according to Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole — who would only vote for Boehner to be speaker.  

Perhaps more important than 28 — the number of GOP “no” votes needed to deny Boehner the gavel on a first ballot if every member votes and no Democrat breaks ranks — is the number of Republicans who simply won’t vote for any Republican other than Boehner. Focusing on the larger number, rather than the more plausible 28, is less fun for the Boehner rebels because it indicates where their chances of taking down the speaker really stand: near zero.  

Short of Boehner magically losing his nerve and simply stepping down, he will be elected speaker on Tuesday.  

Though most of the Boehner insurgents acknowledge the long odds, they’re still determined to register their frustration. And that may be part of a new reality of Congress: Leadership just isn’t as important to some members. Without the old congressional carrots like earmarks, leadership doesn’t have much to offer members who already have little to lose. Boehner and his allies on the Steering Committee stripped Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas of their plum committee assignments in the 113th Congress — and other members, such as Louie Gohmert of Texas and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, have been continually passed over for subcommittee or even full committee chairmanships.  

The new status quo of having a handful of members who consistently vote against their party’s chosen candidate for speaker may be a reflection of the old Bob Dylan lyric: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”  

It’s also a reflection of the new constituencies electing these members, a reflection of where these members are getting their campaign money and where they’re deriving their congressional power. It’s certainly not from a seat at the end of the rostrum on the Budget Committee.  

Conservatives see the recent elections and Republican gains and say voters endorsed a more conservative vision. Other Republicans point out that it was leaders like Boehner who helped put the GOP back in control in the first place.  

“You see the mandate by which you were elected,” a senior GOP aide told CQ Roll Call on Monday. “For the vast majority of House Republicans, it’s a mandate to govern. For a very slim minority, it’s a mandate to stand and yell, ‘hell no.'”  

The so-called Hell No Caucus has long been a pain in GOP leaders’ sides. And even with more Republicans in the House — 246, after Michael G. Grimm of New York, who would have almost certainly been a Boehner vote, stepped down — the hard-liners are still determined to cause Boehner headaches.  

Especially when it come to the speaker election. Even if they can’t muster enough votes to elect a more conservative leader, like Gohmert, Ted Yoho or Florida Republican Daniel Webster, who has also been floated as a potential candidate.  

Gohmert and Yoho have made their candidacies for the speakership widely known, and Webster could emerge as yet another option. But if the insurgents’ plan is to work, it would likely take another member coming forward, someone with more gravitas in the conference. But even then, the rebels know any attempt to overthrow Boehner is unlikely to work.  

They’d simply rather be rebels without a chance than ones without a cause.  


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