Speaker John Boehner’s friends are trying to design new, more effective punishments for the conservative members that might vote against him on the House floor come January, but the message from the right is, “don’t even try it.”
“Look, intimidation tactics and threats do not take the place of leadership,” Rep. Jeff Dunacn (R-SC) told Breitbart News.
“I feel like the embers are gathered on the fire pit, and there just needs to be a spark for the flames to go up,” a senior GOP aide said, predicting the move could backfire.
Boehner’s allies, as first reported by Politico, have been quietly plotting how to prevent a small group of conservatives from denying Boehner a victory in the speakership election next January, something that members on the right have been actively discussing.
Under House rules, an absolute majority of members voting for a person is required to be elected Speaker, making it possible for a small group to cause a deadlocked vote.
Top Boehner allies have considered releasing a letter – it doesn’t exist yet, but the idea was discussed – with a few dozen signatures vowing to only vote on the floor for the person elected by the GOP conference in a closed-door, secret ballot leadership election that precedes the floor vote, according to several GOP sources familiar with the talks.
They’re also talking about altering GOP conference rules to punish members who don’t vote on the floor in accordance with the secret ballot results, such as stripping committee assignments.
Republicans said Boehner didn’t initiate the talks, and a senior lawmaker said Boehner had since signaled to his friends he didn’t want them to pursue the plan.
But the issue is already prompting pushback on the right.
In a radio interview with Laura Ingraham, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a key member among the Boehner dissidents on the right who recently participated in a bull session with a group of conservatives in Sen. Ted Cruz’s Capitol Hill office, said the threats are pervasive.
“There are [conservative House members] who think, ‘My God, should I speak up? Should I speak up in a Republican Conference meeting because they might cut off my money? They might kick me out of committee,'” Huelskamp said.
But Huelskamp, who was thrown off of the House Agriculture and Budget Committees in 2013, said he was undeterred. “I think we need new leadership,” he said. “Cantor, McCarthy and Boehner all come from blue states….We need some folks from red states that understand what most Americans are thinking, especially grassroots conservatives.”
“Don’t make threats of committee assignments or removals – convince me of how you will lead going forward, especially in the pivotal times of the last two years of an Obama Administration when we need clear action,” Duncan added.
Huelskamp, in particular, has long drawn the ire of Boehner’s circle. Republicans close to Boehner said their latest plans to demonstrate strength and raise the cost of opposing him in a high-stakes floor vote are intended to offset members like Huelskamp who will go to extraordinary lengths to exert their will.
The logic of the move, a former leadership aide with knowledge of the situation said, is to make the point that “I’m going to be as f***ing idiotic as Tim Huelskamp” and do whatever it takes, including a series of deadlocked speaker votes, to get him and others in his camp to back down.
The timing of the Politico story drew speculation, since it came as Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has been working to consolidate internal support of late, is locked in a high-profile primary battle with a long-shot opponent. However, Jake Sherman, the reporter who wrote the story, had been working on it for several weeks, sources said, putting its origin before Cantor’s primary race really got on the national media’s radar screen.
Interestingly, the criticism Cantor is facing from the right has prompted key conservative lawmakers to seriously consider whether Boehner might be preferable to Cantor, his heir apparent, Republicans said.
Their rationale: Boehner would be a lame-duck with a clear time horizon, while Cantor could consolidate support and serve for any number of years before the right got a chance to put one of their own in the speakership. During the end of Boehner’s reign in the next Congress, potential leaders on the right – Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) are the names most often mentioned – could continue to gain strength to take on Cantor when Boehner departed.