So why exactly did Rep. Mark Meadows offer a resolution to strip Speaker John A. Boehner of his gavel?
Holding court with reporters Tuesday night, nearly an hour after stunning colleagues by filing a motion to “vacate the chair,” the North Carolina Republican’s message was simple: He was left with no choice. “It’s really more about trying to have a conversation about making this place work, where everybody’s voice matters, where it’s not a punitive culture,” said Meadows, who has felt the repercussions of bucking leadership.
Just last month, Meadows saw his subcommittee chairmanship revoked, then reinstated as leadership attempted to put the two-term congressman in his place for joining 33 other Republicans in trying to sink a key procedural rule vote on trade legislation.
In filing his motion in a non-privileged form — meaning it did not require immediate consideration, or consideration at all — Meadows said he wanted to see if just raising the issue of dissatisfaction with Boehner might prompt some changes at the top. He said he hoped for a “family discussion,” borrowing Boehner’s favorite euphemism for ugly intraparty fights.
But when he was asked if a lack of results on that front could culminate in Meadows bringing the motion up again, this time as privileged, Meadows was clear.
“Correct,” he said.
Republicans speculated Tuesday night that Meadows knew he didn’t have the votes at this point to remove Boehner and deliberately filed the motion as a non-privileged measure in order to let the prospect of a leadership change — however far-fetched — simmer over the monthlong August recess.
Speaking on background to scrums of reporters lingering near the Speaker’s Lobby, some lawmakers dismissed the attention-grabbing move as a gambit by Meadows to gin up fundraising. They also accused the North Carolina congressman of needlessly creating a distraction that could overshadow what many Republicans would prefer to focus for the next several weeks: Bashing President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Meadows objected to both accusations.
“I haven’t raised money off of anything that has happened to me in this House,” he said.
“There’s no one that’s been stronger on the Iran message, and to suggest we can only have one message when we go back home to talk to the American people would be to imply that our town halls can only have one question,” he said.
As for whether a motion to vacate the chair could succeed if brought to the floor for a vote, Meadows either didn’t know or wouldn’t say. As it was, he didn’t file the resolution with co-sponsors, and told very few people of his plans to take this action, even those in the close-knit House Freedom Caucus.
“I ran it by several friends,” Meadows said, clarifying that he did, indeed, mean congressional colleagues. He also said he told his wife and kids, “because the implications certainly are profound.”
Asked if he had considered the consequences of his resolution, whether it could backfire and perhaps even result in the installation of a Democratic speaker, Meadows said he firmly believed a Republican would maintain the gavel. A Republican, he added, who would take input from all corners of the conference and would allow members to vote their conscience.
“Let me just say I’m not into embarrassing anybody,” Meadows said. “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not into embarrassing anyone, and so that’s never been the motive or the intention.”
But if he just wanted a family discussion, why not bring this up behind closed doors?
Meadows replied there’d been a lot of talk already within the conference about what is and isn’t appropriate, and he disagreed that leaders should be allowed to punish members for voting their conscience.
“It comes down to one thing,” Meadows said. “And that is, the voice of the American people needs to be heard.”
While the current resolution faces long odds, Meadows said names that have been discussed over the recent weeks and months to replace Boehner include: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas — even Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, with whom Meadows was seen huddling on the House floor long after legislative business had concluded. (Meadows said, for the record, Conaway did not approve of his tactic.) Meadows also mentioned Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., whose surprise candidacy for speaker at the start of the 114th Congress ended up costing him a seat on the powerful Rules Committee.
Ultimately, Meadows wasn’t predicting anything.
“Today, I am 56 years old. Today is my birthday,” he said. “So I have lived long enough to know that anything, if you live long enough, can happen.”