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GOP Leadership Metes Out Retribution for Rules Votes (Updated)

Lummis and two other members of the GOP whip team were demoted Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Lummis and two other members of the GOP whip team were demoted Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated, 10:29 p.m. |  It may not stop the most diehard conservatives — six Republicans voted against yet another procedural motion Tuesday — but GOP leadership is pushing back against members of its own party who vote “no” on rules, removing from the whip team three members who voted against last week’s resolution to bring Trade Promotion Authority to the floor.  

Reps. Cynthia M. Lummis, Steve Pearce and Trent Franks have all been kicked off the team tasked with holding Republicans together following a 34-member House floor revolt on the TPA rule last Thursday. (Republicans were only able to adopt the rule because eight Democrats broke from the normally party-line vote to support the rule.) Those three Republicans, all of whom are in the House Freedom Caucus, have largely been a bridge between conservatives and leadership, as they straddle membership in Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s team of GOP loyalists and the increasingly defiant HFC.  

While the punishment could be seen as an affront to conservatives, the members stripped of their deputy whip titles — first reported by National Journal  — mostly seemed to be taking the punishment in stride Tuesday.  

“It is incredibly rare for me to vote against the rule,” Franks said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I was extremely conflicted and recognized the sincerity of both sides of a nearly impossible situation.”  

The Arizona Republican said he completely respected leadership’s decision, “and might have done the same in their place.”  

As for Lummis, the Wyoming Republican’s office had a similar sentiment.  

“Cynthia knew going into the rule vote last week that being a member of the Whip Team has certain parameters,” Lummis’s press secretary, Joe Spiering, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “She understands his decision and departs the Whip organization with nothing but the utmost respect for Mr. Scalise and his entire organization.”  

Spiering continued that, by including conservatives like Lummis, Scalise was trying to include a wide variety of voices from the Republican Conference on the whip team. “Cynthia respected that and continues to respect the difficult job he has,” Spiering said.  

Pearce brushed off the demotion.  

“Not much has changed in the House.  I came here to represent the people of the Second Congressional District of New Mexico.  That means considering each vote on its merits and striving to do the right thing for them,” Pearce said in a statement.  “Sometimes that demands casting hard votes, as I did last week.  I always strive to vote on principle and that won’t change.”  

Meanwhile, conservatives who also voted against the rule last week were rushing to the defense of their colleagues.  

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday that it was “unfortunate” HFC members were getting booted from the whip team. “I think it’s wrong,” he said.  

Jordan also said Tuesday during a monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” event that, “whether there are repercussions or not,” there are always going to be members who don’t like Republicans voting against rules. But that shouldn’t be the test for voting for or against rules, he said. It should be the overall rule itself and the objective of the policy — a standard which leadership, to be sure, isn’t likely to agree with.  

Another HFC member, Raúl R. Labrador, said “the failing” with leadership is they don’t listen to dissatisfied members. He said leadership largely wasn’t even aware of those members. “And I think they need to be really careful with that,” Labrador said.  

The Idaho Republican signaled that leadership had more opponents than simply the 34 Republicans who voted against the TPA rule.  

“Because voting against the rule is almost like a capital crime here, and we know what’s going to happen to us,” Labrador said. “We know that the leadership is going to come against us, we know that they’re already telling our donors not to give money to us, which, by the way, I think is unethical. We know exactly what they’re doing.”  

But the reality is, Labrador continued, it isn’t just conservatives who are dissatisfied. Labrador said there was a top-down type of leadership where members are simply told what the end-result of legislation will look like. “That’s not leadership,” Labrador said. “That’s tyranny.”  

As mad as Labrador is, however, there are plenty of Republicans on the other side of the equation just as ticked off with conservatives.  

Speaker John A. Boehner was emphatic Tuesday he wasn’t going to tolerate members voting down rules. While he may not have offered any specific repercussions for members breaking ranks on the procedural vote, he was forceful.  

“I’m not very happy about it,” Boehner said Tuesday morning following a weekly conference meeting with members. “And I made pretty clear to the members today that I was not very happy about it.”  

“We’re a team,” Boehner said, “and we’ve worked hard to get to the majority, we’ve worked hard to stay in the majority — and I expect our team to act like a team.”  

One of Boehner’s close allies, fellow Ohio Republican Pat Tiberi, who has also been among the Republicans leading the charge on trade — and who was once leading a charge to punish Republicans for voting against the speaker  — told reporters Tuesday morning there was “a growing majority” in the GOP conference frustrated with Republicans who didn’t want to be part of the team. “And I think that’s a discussion that’s happening with a lot our members right now,” Tiberi said, “what those repercussions should be if you’re not going to be part of the team.”  

But outside of booting a few members off the whip team and maybe trying to scare off some GOP donors, as Labrador contended leadership was doing, there aren’t many options for leaders. The truth is leadership needs conservatives to have a stake in the game. Kicking them off committees, leaving them with nothing, just means they have nothing to lose.  

Making whip team members vote for rules is par for the course. The members themselves seem to have understood that. And, as a whip team aide pointed out in an email, Scalise reaffirmed a longstanding policy at the beginning of the year that, “while Whip team members are free to vote their conscience on underlying bills, they are expected to vote as a team on procedural matters such as last week’s rule vote.”  

When leadership moves to the next step of removing members from committees, as they did with Rules members Daniel Webster, R-Fla., and Richard Nugent, R-Fla., at the start of this Congress after both voted against Boehner to be speaker, that’s when leadership makes devoted enemies.  

Consider Justin Amash of Michigan, who was kicked off the Budget Committee at the end of 2012, or Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, who has been skipped over for Armed Services subcommittee chairmanships for years. Both Amash and Jones were among the six Republicans to vote against the rule Tuesday, which extended the House’s ability to hold a re-vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance until August.  

But there still could be additional punishment. Much of it is just a calculus: Whether retribution does more harm than good.  

It’s a similar calculus to the one members engage in almost every day: Whether breaking with leadership on this vote or that vote is worth it. And that seems to be more of a question for some members than others.

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