The ideological differences between the establishment GOP and the party’s conservative wing became more evident yesterday during the latest election for Speaker of the House. Hours before the vote, a “dump Boehner” movement aimed at denying the Ohio Republican a third term appeared to be gaining momentum. “A fresh start often requires change, and I believe that change should start with the election of a new Speaker,” wrote Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) on his Facebook page.
Change didn’t happen. Boehner was reelected by a margin of 216 votes out of 408 votes cast.
The revolt against the status quo yielded at least three representatives willing to challenge Boehner for the job. Taking up the effort were two Florida Republicans, Rep. Ted Yoho and Rep. Daniel Webster, and conservative stalwart Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. Gohmert frequently appears at events hosted by the David Horowitz Freedom Center and was a featured speaker at the Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend in 2014.
And while the odds of them winning were low, their efforts were not in vain, as the number of Republicans willing to challenge Boehner got larger. Early Tuesday it was reported that 10 Republicans were against Boehner’s reappointment, but by the time Yoho spoke with Fox News the number had grown to 13. By afternoon two more defectors had joined the ranks, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who had originally indicated he would vote for Boehner. Another defector was Texas Rep. Randy Weber. He voted for Boehner in 2013, but indicated that Gohmert was now his first choice. “Let’s all get behind Judge Louie Gohmert for Speaker!” Weber wrote on Twitter. “He has my vote! He’s not afraid to take the fight to the president & his veto pen!”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who shocked the GOP Establishment when he defeated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in that state’s primary, expressed the sentiment of his rebellious colleagues, contending Republican leadership has "strayed from its own principles of free market, limited government, (and) constitutional conservatism.”
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who was also a featured speaker at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend in 2014, illuminated one of the primary examples of GOP straying. He released a statement explaining that Boehner and President Obama
crafted the CR/Omnibus, a $1.1 trillion spending bill which funded the government for 10 months and blocked our newest elected Republicans from advancing conservative policy and delivering on campaign promises. With this vote, Republicans gave away the best tool available to rein in our liberal activist President: the power of the purse.
A majority of rank-and-file Republicans also expressed disdain for Boehner’s leadership. A national telephone survey conducted Dec. 26-30 revealed that 60 percent of voters who voted for Republicans in 2014 either “definitely” or “probably” wanted their congressional representative to vote for someone other than Boehner. Those who definitely wanted Boehner deposed comprised 34 percent of the vote, while 26 percent probably wanted someone else. On the other side of the equation, only 11 percent definitely wanted to keep Boehner, and 15 percent probably wanted him to remain.
The Speaker didn’t fare much better with regard to specific questions. By a margin of 52-37 percent, the respondents indicated they didn’t trust Boehner to fight for the issues most important to Republicans. He got hammered even harder when asked about his effectiveness in opposing Obama’s agenda with a whopping 64 percent agreeing that he was not effective, compared to only 24 percent who thought he was. Boehner couldn’t even get a majority of Republicans to agree strongly or somewhat that he “has the best interests of the American public at heart, rather than special interests,” with only 44 percent saying he would watch out for the public, barely edging the 43 percent who thought he would cater to the well-connected.
Boehner needed a simple majority to get reelected, but for much of the day it was impossible to determine what the actual number would be due to outside factors. They included Rep. Michael Grimm's (R-NY) resignation following a guilty plea for tax evasion, a dozen Democrats attending former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s funeral in Manhattan, and several lawmakers unable to reach Washington, D.C. due to bad weather. At the very least the rebels were hoping to force a second round of voting for the first time since 1923, when Frederick H. Gillett (R-MA) needed nine ballots to win reelection as speaker, according to the Congressional Research Service. Gillett ultimately prevailed.
In the end, so did Boehner. Shortly before 3p.m. EST he secured his reelection, topping Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who got 164 votes. And while conservatives fell well short of securing enough votes to force a second round, the number of dissenting Republicans had grown to 25, the largest number of naysayers since the aforementioned 1923 vote.
"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad,” Boehner said, taking the gavel from Pelosi. Before handing it over, Pelosi made one more push for the Democratic agenda, promising to introduce legislation that would raise taxes on wealthy Americans and businesses, boost spending on infrastructure, and focus on voting rights. “We invite our Republican colleagues to join us,” she said to the scattered applause that is perhaps the best indicator of her chances for success.
By contrast, Boehner promised to make the economy his party’s top priority. Toward that end he will reintroduce measures that passed in the House with bipartisan support during the previous Congress, but ultimately died in the then-Democratically-controlled Senate, when former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) amply fulfilled his role as obstructionist-in-chief.
And while Republican rebels made their voices heard, there was no real opposition to Boehner’s reelection in terms of alternative choices. Webster earned 12 votes, falling well short of threatening Boehner despite being the largest single challenge in years, and Gohmert received three votes of support. Several other GOPers received votes as well.
In a statement, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) expressed one of the establishment GOP viewpoints for supporting Boehner, explaining that he was willing to give the thrice-elected Speaker a chance to "negotiate with a Senate which, for once, is not an automatic adversary.” Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) offered a different take. “He led us through a period where we’ve increased our majority, substantially,” he said.
Despite Boehner’s victory, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) was frustrated. “The American people are going to give us two years to try to get things done, and we have to be serious about it. We have to be focused on it, and things like this are a distraction,” he contended. “The debate about this is important, but we had this in November. To have a handful of folks gin this up with talk radio is really, really unfortunate.”
When a survey showing 60 percent of the electorate who voted Republican want someone other than Boehner running the House, the notion that a "handful of folks” are “ginning” up animosity rings exceedingly hollow. Moreover the real “gin-meister" might be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who dismissed conservative concerns as “scary” right around the time the survey was conducted. “I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome,” he said during an interview with the Washington Post just before Christmas. "I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority.”
McConnell pushed the envelope even further. “There would be nothing frightening about adding a Republican president to that governing majority,” he added. “I think that’s the single best thing we can do, is to not mess up the playing field, if you will, for whoever the nominee ultimately is.”
Not messing up the playing field is the essence of establishment GOP thinking. And it is that thinking that more than likely led to Obama being reelected, despite getting 7.6 million fewer votes in 2012 than 2008, when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan managed to garner 1.3 million fewer votes than John McCain and Sarah Palin. That would be the same John McCain and Sarah Palin facing a “hope and change” Obama in all his euphoric glory, not the Obama saddled with a dismal economy, skyrocketing debt, and numerous scandals. Romney lost nonetheless, in large part because the GOP base stayed home, not willing to invest the time and energy to vote for yet another “unfrightening" candidate.
Furthermore, it was Obama himself who framed the 2014 election as a referendum on his agenda, and the electorate “rewarded” the president and his party with the loss of 9 Senate seats and the largest Republican majority in the House since WWll. That voters wanted to bottle up that agenda is inarguable. So is the idea that millions of Americans yearn for genuine leadership.
Unfortunately, the reelection of John Boehner indicates establishment Republicans are content with the status quo, and Americans will undoubtedly hear a familiar GOP refrain about being only “one more election (of a GOP president) away" from making real changes. As for the GOP base, many of whom jammed the phones urging their representative not to vote for Boehner, and who believe as Bill Gheen, founder of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, put it, that his reelection is “a vote for amnesty,” will yet again be seen as people with no other place to go in 2016.
The GOP has two years to convince that base, along with other Americans, they are worthy of the electorate's ongoing support. The reelection of John Boehner as Speaker of the House is not an encouraging first step.
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