Deirdre Shesgreen reports:
Here’s what House Speaker John Boehner’s future holds: messy negotiations with the Senate over a farm bill, a possible GOP bloodbath on immigration reform and then another dreaded showdown with the White House over the debt ceiling.
Given that landscape, it’s perhaps no wonder that some in Washington believe Boehner will make this term his last.
Boehner has not given any hint that he’s ready to leave the House and give up his perch as the most powerful Republican in Washington. Take, for example, this exchange Boehner had with a Capitol Hill reporter earlier this year:
“Most political observers assume that you’ve already decided to hang up your cleats at the end of 2014. Some have told me that they wouldn’t be surprised if you called it quits earlier,” David Drucker, a reporter for Roll Call, said to the speaker.
Boehner’s response: “I’m far from done.”
And last week, Politico reported, he told a group of political friends over dinner that he planned to seek re-election, in an apparent effort to swat down the rumors. But the political chatter goes on.
“I have had three reporters in the last week ask me the same question,” said an exasperated Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, a longtime friend of Boehner’s. “Where in the world is this coming from?”
Tiberi said the speculation is “way off.”
Among Cincinnati Republicans, the sentiment is the same.
“I absolutely don’t see that,” David Kern, chairman of the Butler County Republican Party, said when asked about the possibility of Boehner calling it quits. “There is no indication of that back here in his hometown.”
Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, pointed to the speaker’s previous statements indicating he had no plans to retire.
The Reading native will be 65 years old when his term ends, and he will have served in Congress for 24 years. And his term at the helm of the House has been rough.
He won a second term as speaker only after a revolt from a faction in his party, with nine GOP lawmakers voting for other candidates and several others abstaining.
The opposition hasn’t faded much. Most recently, he’s faced GOP defections on the farm bill and intraparty angst over immigration reform. On the latter issue, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., warned that if Boehner brought a Senate-crafted immigration overhaul to the House floor, it would be a “betrayal” and “he should be removed as speaker.”
To quiet the conservative discontent, Boehner has promised not to bring any legislation up for a vote in the House unless it has the support of a majority of his GOP conference. But following that policy severely limits his ability to pass substantive legislation that could also win Senate approval and the president’s signature.
“Not much is going to get done,” said former Rep. Steve LaTourette, an Ohio Republican and Boehner ally. “If he chooses to jettison that (policy), he probably loses his job.”
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, agreed, saying House Republicans “simply are not going to make enormous policy strides given the alignment of power in Washington…. The best Boehner can hope for is to scrape through.”
So why wouldn’t Boehner want to trade in those headaches for more time on the links – or a plum lobbying job? As Boehner himself said this year in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “I need this job like I need a hole in the head.”
Boehner’s aides scrambled last week to dispel any sense that he was heading for the exits.
Exhibit A: He is raising gobs of money for his re-election campaign and for his GOP colleagues, so he can help keep Republicans in the majority – and thus remain as speaker.
So far this year, Boehner has raised more than $30 million through his fundraising committees and other GOP accounts, according to Cory Fritz, his chief political spokesman. At the end of June, he had more than $2.5 million in the bank for his re-election.
LaTourette said that six months ago he would have said Boehner was ready to give up the gavel. But now he believes the speaker “is going to run again.”
Part of the reason, he said, is that Boehner still wants to strike a grand bargain to reduce the debt.
“I think he wants his legacy to be the big deal on the budget,” said LaTourette. “He’s going to make that a project he gets done before he leaves.”
Right now, said Pitney, Boehner’s legacy is “about the things he averted rather than the things he accomplished. We didn’t have a fiscal collapse. We didn’t default. And the government didn’t shut down.”
Tiberi said Boehner will be in a better position to influence policy after the 2014 elections. With Republicans expected to keep their majority in the House and possibly gain seats in the Senate, Tiberi said, Obama will be forced to negotiate with Boehner in the next Congress, when the president will be looking to cement his own legacy.
“He’ll have a lame-duck Barack Obama,” Tiberi said, who will “figure out ‘I’ve got to deal with House Republicans for the rest of my term.’ ”
Given the continued discontent among hard-line House conservatives, though, could Boehner even win a third term as speaker?
“I don’t know,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who cast one of the anti-Boehner votes in the January election for speaker.
Massie said he’s been encouraged by some of Boehner’s recent moves, such as the decision to strip food stamps from the farm bill. He said it’s “far too early,” though, to say whether he would vote for Boehner if the speaker seeks a third term as GOP leader.
“If he decides not to run, I’d like to see some new blood in there,” Massie said.