The Real Reason Some Members Voted Against Boehner
For many of the 25 House Republicans who broke ranks in the speaker election Tuesday, voting against John A. Boehner was a reflection of a long-simmering dissatisfaction with the Ohio Republican.
But for some other members, it may have just been about political survival.
According to one member of the coup attempt against Boehner, organizers were aware they could lose some votes on a second ballot due to certain members voting against the speaker on the first round more for political cover than actual differences with Boehner.
Multiple sources also told CQ Roll Call that other members made Boehner aware of their intention to vote against him, and pleaded with the speaker to understand the political pressure they were under in their overwhelmingly red districts.
Exactly what was said or promised between Boehner and these members isn’t clear, but many members said they faced immense pressure from constituents to vote for someone else.
For Rep. Jeff Duncan, who represents a deeply conservative district in South Carolina, voting against Boehner certainly isn’t going to hurt his re-election chances or invite a primary challenge from a farther-right candidate.
“We polled,” Duncan told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday. “We talked to a lot of folks during the Christmas break. And I just felt like it was a new beginning, thought we needed a new direction.”
Duncan confirmed that he informed Boehner on Monday that he wouldn’t be voting for him, and Duncan said there was “no pressure” from Boehner to do otherwise.
“That’s not the kind of guy John Boehner is,” said Duncan. “He’s an honorable man. He’s served the country well. He’s been a great speaker under usual circumstances where we only had the House.”
Duncan ultimately voted for fellow South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who voted for Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, told CQ Roll Call he was in a similar camp. “I pledged to my constituents that I would be their voice, and we heard loud and clear that they were looking for a change in leadership, and that’s what I told the speaker … We had a lot of calls, emails, text messages — more than we’ve had, probably, on any issue in the past four years,” DesJarlais said.
DesJarlais said he looked forward to working with Boehner going forward as he had the past four years, though he suggested that Boehner wasn’t exactly thrilled with the news that he wouldn’t have the lawmaker’s backing.
“Of course he would have liked to have had my support,” DesJarlais characterized his pre-vote meeting with Boehner.
DesJarlais voted for Boehner in 2013, but after barely securing a third term in office amid revelations that the anti-abortion Republican had encouraged an ex-wife and former mistress to have multiple abortions, DesJarlais may have been feeling the pressure to appease the right; he prevailed over his primary challenger last year by just 38 votes.
Even Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a reliable opponent of Boehner ever since he first came to Congress and voted against the speaker as a freshman, said Tuesday that, “I’d be rescinded if I didn’t vote against him.”
But after Florida Republican Reps. Daniel Webster and Rich Nugent were kicked off the Rules Committee following their surprise votes against Boehner in favor of, incidentally, Webster, those same members may be feeling a new pressure. Now the dissidents are waiting to see if additional punishment from leadership might be meted out.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., who holds a chairmanship of a top Financial Services subcommittee and is vice-chairman of the Budget panel, has been a prime source of speculation. But he may be saved by the fact that, as he told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday, he gave leadership advance warning that he would not be voting for Boehner. (Garrett won re-election in 2014 with more than 55 percent of the vote, though there were weeks as the election neared where his opponent seemed to have a better-than-even shot of taking the seat.)
Another member who could be a prime target for retaliation is Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. Rigell was just appointed to the Appropriations Committee, and unlike some of his other colleagues, he did not inform Boehner of his intention to vote for someone else.
According to Rigell, he only decided to vote for someone different about “six or seven minutes” before the House convened for its speaker election. Rigell learned of Webster’s eleventh-hour candidacy on C-SPAN just before coming to the House floor, and that changed his calculus.
Now Rigell’s just hoping Boehner doesn’t retaliate. “It’s been my experience in watching the speaker over the past four years that he is not a vindictive man and that a vote of conscience is respected, and I think I’ll leave it at that,” Rigell said.
In general, members who voted against Boehner were leery of commenting on the speaker’s election.
Oklahoma Republican Jim Bridenstine, who voted for Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, seemed eager to put the whole matter behind him — except for acknowledging his chief of staff had sent an email to Boehner’s chief of staff informing him that Bridenstine wouldn’t be voting for Boehner.
And Rep. Mark Meadows, who comes from a deep red district in North Carolina and is expected to lead a subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform panel this Congress, told CQ Roll Call that he wasn’t “commenting on anything on the speaker’s race.”
Still, it’s not surprising that some members would give Boehner advance notice that they were going to vote against him — or even worked out an understanding where they had a hall pass to vote in a different direction. The speaker election was, by and large, a theatrical exercise. Many members didn’t disguise that fact.
Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., and Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., both passed up their opportunity to vote the first time the clerk called their name — Salmon, at least, was in the chamber the whole time. Once it was clear Boehner would be re-elected no matter which way they voted, they ended up on the winning team.
Most Americans might be surprised by the details of the backstage maneuvering, but in the realpolitik of Washington, telling the speaker you’re voting against him, coming to some sort of agreement in advance or jumping in on the winning side at the last minute isn’t disingenuous.
It’s nothing personal. It’s just politics.
Still, members who didn’t give Boehner a head’s up might now be wishing they had.
Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, told CQ Roll Call his office received between 2,000 and 3,000 calls about the speaker election. When asked whether he had given Boehner advance notice about his intended vote for Gohmert, Weber expressed regret.
“To my discredit, I did not,” Weber said. “I should have let them know I wasn’t going to be on their team.”
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.
Sign up for Roll Call’s Thought Leaders Newsletter – delivered daily to your inbox!