After taking his licks, Boehner back in the saddle
Deirdre Shesgreen of the Associated Press reports:
Republican John Boehner was re-elected as Speaker of the House after a tense roll call vote in which a handful of GOP lawmakers voted for someone else.
It was a far different scene that his first election to Speaker, when he received unanimous GOP support. It was also a clear signal of the rocky path forward for the West Chester Republican.
In a stunning display of open rebellion, nine Republican House members voted for someone other than Boehner, including the four lawmakers who were stripped of key committee assignments after they regularly bucked GOP leaders.
As the clerk called the roll, the defections seemed to edge perilously close to 17 – the number needed to throw the speaker’s election to a second ballot.
There were rumbles and boos in the chamber as one GOP opponent after another cast an anti-Boehner vote. Eric Cantor, Boehner’s top lieutenant in the House – and a chief political rival – snagged three votes for speaker. Newly elected Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was among those opposing Boehner, voting for Rep. Justin Amash of Mich., another rebel and libertarian firebrand.
In the end, Boehner won with 220 votes – more than enough to keep the speaker’s gavel. But the vote offered a far different scene than his first election to speaker two years ago, when he received unanimous GOP support.
And it provided a clear signal of the rocky path forward for the West Chester Republican as Boehner tries to govern a deeply fractious caucus in the new Congress.
“I’m just trying to represent the people of my district who are frustrated,” Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., a leader of the revolt, said as he held up a manila folder that he said was filled with emails from constituents who “don’t want Boehner to be speaker.”
Boehner’s allies downplayed the rare scene of disarray on the House floor, saying the incident would quickly fade and noting that Boehner had strong support from an overwhelming majority of the conference.
“I don’t think it really means anything,” said Rep Steve Stivers, R-Columbus, dismissing questions about whether Boehner was damaged by the rebellion. “They wanted to make a statement, and the statement’s over, and it’s time to come together.”
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said he was “not at all” surprised by the anti-Boehner votes and he shrugged off questions about whether it spelled more trouble ahead for Boehner.
“The speaker and all House Republicans are focused on the American people’s priorities,” Steel said.
Boehner himself did not mention the defections after taking the gavel, which was handed over to him by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
“We’re sent here not to be something, but to do something,” he said to applause from his colleagues.
“If you’ve come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as some accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is right behind you.”
“ … If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve,” he continued, choking up a bit, “ … then you have come to the right building.”
‘Fiscal cliff’ fed unrest among GOP members
Boehner, a Reading native who grew up working in his father’s Carthage bar, first won a seat in Congress in 1990. He rose through the Republican leadership and two years ago won his first term as speaker after a wave of tea party candidates catapulted Republicans to a majority in the House.
But Boehner has been unable to corral those newcomers, along with a band of veteran conservatives, to forge a unified conference.
Driven by a zeal to cut spending and shrink government, conservatives have blanched at Boehner’s efforts to compromise with President Barack Obama. They torpedoed debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 and nearly tanked this week’s agreement to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
Jones, the North Carolina lawmaker, said the fiscal cliff deal was the catalyst for Thursday’s efforts to oust Boehner, saying that agreement had made conservatives go “crazy.”
He said he and Amash met on Wednesday morning in his office to talk about a way to force the speaker’s vote to a second ballot. They did not agree on whom to vote for – just that they would vote against Boehner, Jones said.
He said they thought they had about 20 lawmakers on board, but several changed their minds as the roll call got under way.
Of the nine Republicans who voted for another candidate, Boehner had recently stripped three of them from key committee assignments – Jones, Amash and Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas – after they had regularly bucked Republican leaders.
That “purge,” as critics have called it, infuriated those lawmakers in particular and ignited conservatives in general. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, cited that move in a statement explaining his decision not to vote for Boehner. He voted “present.”
Stockman called Boehner “a decent man,” but said: “I have sharp disagreements with the manner in which he has handled President Obama and House conservatives. While he is all too eager to favorably negotiate with a liberal White House that has outmaneuvered him at every turn, he has been harsh and punitive in dealing with conservatives.”
It remains to be seen how much of a blow Thursday’s rebellion will be for Boehner and how much harder it will be for him to present a united GOP front as Congress confronts another set of difficult fiscal battles this year.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, said Pelosi had already helped unite the GOP with her opening remarks on Thursday in which she cited gun control and immigration as key agenda items for the 113th Congress.
Kingston also noted that Pelosi and former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich suffered similar defections when they were up for re-election as House speakers.
“There are a lot of backseat drivers in a roomful of 435 type-A personalities,” Kingston said.
The GOP rebellion was a “reflection of the pressures we’re all under right now” grappling with a divided caucus and tough economic issues, he said, but “I don’t think it’s damaging” for Boehner.