In the wake of House GOP Leadership's strategic miscalculation last night, legitimate questions are being raised about the future of Speaker John Boehner's leadership. But, it is important to remember that the House GOP is led by a triumvirate. In addition to Boehner, the conference is led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Last night was yet another epic failure in McCarthy's Whip operation.
The principal duty of a legislative Whip is to rally and count votes ahead of legislation coming to the floor. The Whip's role is to tell other leaders, "We have X votes on this and need to do Y to get enough to pass." One reason many of us were caught off-guard by the failure of Boehner's "Plan B", is that leadership doesn't ordinarily schedule votes on bills unless they already know they have the votes to pass them. A good rule of thumb in politics is that any vote scheduled is one that's already been decided behind the scenes. Obviously, the current GOP Leadership can't handle this simple task.
According to press reports, Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy and Paul Ryan were furiously lobbying support for "Plan B" on the House floor last night. According to Breitbart News sources, they were far off the 218 needed to pass the legislation. McCarthy, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, was reportedly the first of the leaders to leave the floor. Ordinarily, the Whip would be the last to abandon the quest for votes.
This is just the latest in a series of votes that the leadership has missed. In August, 2011, House Leadership had to rely on Democrat votes to pass their proposal to lift the debt ceiling. A news account at the time included this disturbing tidbit:
When Boehner "went to the table"—brought the bill to a vote—he "had no idea" how many votes he had, Pelosi says.
The speaker, as it turned out, did not have enough Republican votes to pass the bill—only 174—and he had made no arrangement to guarantee its success. When there were minutes left for the vote, and it became apparent that Boehner would fall far short of the 216 votes necessary for passage, Pelosi's Democrats began voting in favor of the measure. "We were not going to let it go down," she told a small group of journalists on Wednesday morning.
That the Speaker would go into a vote uncertain of how many votes he has is almost politically unimaginable. A good Whip operation should know, almost with precision, how many votes they have or need. That he didn't have this information is a testament to the weakness of the GOP Leadership team.
In late September, 2011, the GOP Leadership again suffered an embarrassing loss on the floor on a temporary spending bill, when dozens of conservatives bolted over the level of cuts. A good Whip operation would have alerted Leadership to problems far in advance of a floor vote. Earlier this year, Leadership had to split a Transportation bill into three parts, because there weren't enough votes to pass a stand-alone bill. This list goes on, but you get the point.
The chief problem Leadership faces goes beyond McCarthy's Whip operation. They insist on pushing bills that don't have the support of the GOP caucus. A source on Capitol Hill told Breitbart News that some offices close to Leadership were griping this morning that if they only had earmarks, they could have secured passage of "Plan B." That's an error of at least two orders of magnitude.
If the triumvirate leading the House GOP continues to push legislation that is against conservative principles, they shouldn't be surprised that conservatives balk. McCarthy's Whip operation has become an echo chamber for Leadership, convincing them that, at some point, they will have the votes to pass legislation opposed by conservatives. It ought to help Leadership shape legislation that will attract conservative votes.
They've tried everything else. It hasn't worked. Might as well try to appeal to conservatives.