By Hastings Wyman-
There are two views about the impact of the very public revolt of some 25 Republican members of Congress who did not vote for House Speaker John Boehner’s reelection. One view holds Boehner’s victory will strengthen the role of the center/right in the House. The other is that it will force the Speaker to move more to the right in order to placate the palpable opposition to his willingness to compromise.
The mainstream view is that the GOP’s increased majority, now 246 of the 435 House members, will give Boehner more room to operate without support from the most conservative Republicans and some libertarians. Some analysts estimate Boehner has a “working majority” of some 220 members, enough to pass any legislation he favors. “We don’t need these fringe guys anymore,” one key staffer (R) told Politico. Moreover, the overall public desire for Washington to get something done, even if it isn’t perfect, stands him in good stead with the news media, business, and many of the GOP’s big money folks.
This view holds that Boehner’s strengths substantially outweigh any weakness. These include that he is a good fundraiser and has been generous in contributing to members’ campaigns. He also demonstrated that he knows how to work the House. During the several months leading up to the vote, Boehner telephoned almost all of the GOP House members asking for their support.
Moreover, although the Speaker’s public response to the divided vote was measured, asking that “we disagree without being disagreeable,” he did not behave like he’d been taken to the woodshed. Boehner promptly took his revenge on the rebels, removing US Rep. Daniel Webster (FL), who got more votes for Speaker than any other challenger, and Richard Nugent (FL) from the important Rules Committee, and US Rep. Randy Weber (TX) from his lead sponsorship of an energy bill. Some members have pushed back on this, but Boehner’s allies were pleased that he showed toughness toward his foes, and still more reprisals are possible.
The opposing view, however, is that although Boehner was reelected with 216 votes, 11 votes more than he needed, the 25 naysayers were the largest group to oppose a sitting speaker in a century, essentially because the rebels felt the Speaker was too willing to compromise on key issues.
Pursuing this line, ardent lobbying from the Tea Party-oriented GOP base, including groups that have used opposition to Boehner as a fundraising tool, put enough pressure on some members that they feared voting for Boehner would threaten their hold on their congressional seats. US Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN), who did not vote for Boehner, told Roll Call, “We had a lot of calls, emails, text messages – more than we’ve had, probably, on any issue in the past four years.” “I have not had this many phone calls since the shutdown of the government,” US Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a maverick not associated with the GOP’s rightwing, told The Hill. And US Rep. Randy Weber (TX) said his office received between 2,000 and 3,000 calls about the Speaker contest. Indeed, one recent poll showed that 60% of Republican voters wanted someone other than Boehner for House Speaker.
Moreover, this view holds that the vote was more than just symbolic. There are some estimates that the 25 members who deserted Boehner were just the tip of the iceberg. There are estimates that the rebels have the tacit support of some 40 or 50 other members who nevertheless voted for Boehner. Thus, one Washington insider was surprised at the large number of “Tea Party folks” in the House who voted for Boehner. Many “had expressed opposition to him [in their campaigns], but did not vote against him,” a Washington insider tells SPR. Recognizing the opposition from his right, goes this view, Boehner promised conservative members that he would take the fight to the Obama White House aggressively on the key issues of concern to the GOP right.
One example is US Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), who rankled Tea Party folks with his vote for Boehner. Palazzo said in an interview with the Sun-Herald, that when the Speaker telephoned him before the vote, Boehner assured him that he was going to address border security and the national debt, among other issues. “He gave me his word that he was, and that he’s going to stand up to this administration.”
As a result, “We’re going to see a much more forceful, aggressive, combative, right-leaning Boehner” during 2015, concludes this insider.
Boehner did move quickly on legislation that clashes with White House views, getting the Keystone Pipeline passed by a vote of 266 to 153, with 28 Democrats voting for the bill, a vote that demonstrated Boehner’s ability to whip the Republican members, as well as his ability to get votes across the aisle, a victory for both views. Stay tuned.