Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) is remaining silent about his allegation that House GOP leadership misled him in order to get him to switch sides in a key vote that allowed the party to bring the so-called cromnibus, $1.1 trillion, 1,774-page spending bill to the floor of the House so leadership could pass it.
But several others–including three U.S. House members–tell Breitbart News that it was Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who made the promise. McCarthy’s office went on record with Breitbart News to vigorously deny that.
The nature of what happened is complicated. But it’s a very serious charge for a Congressman to allege that party leadership misled him. So it’s odd that Stutzman won’t defend that charge publicly in either interviews or further statements.
Especially since a series of interviews with major players on both sides of the argument–and the actual video on C-SPAN–suggest there is in fact an element of truth to what Stutzman said. But since Stutzman won’t back it up again in public, and McCarthy’s office is now on the record here specifically denying it, it’s really Stutzman’s word against McCarthy’s.
Here’s what happened the day of the cromnibus vote:
House members were voting on the rule, a technical vote that simply allows the actual bill to come to the floor for a vote. After the 15 minutes of voting was up, C-SPAN reported a whopping 264 members still hadn’t voted. At that point, the total was 95 yeas and 76 nays. All the yeas were Republicans.
More than 10 minutes later–the vote was held open for an abnormally long time–34 members still hadn’t voted. By then, there were 201 yeas and 200 nays–14 of which were Republicans and 186 of which were Democrats.
Leaders scrambled on the floor for another five minutes–now more than half an hour into a 15-minute vote. At that point, the nays had it with 214 members voting against. Eighteen of the nays were Republicans, 196 of them were Democrats. All the 212 yea votes were Republicans.
If the cromnibus bill had died on the rule, it would have been a brutal defeat of Boehner–an indictment of his failure to lead–as it’s extraordinarily rare that legislation ever dies on a rule vote.
So Boehner’s leadership team jumped into action, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California leading the charge. GOP conference chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) chipped in. Boehner himself worked members, too. The goal was to flip at least two of the 18 Republican nay votes. Eventually Team Boehner convinced two of the Republicans who had voted against the rule to switch their votes to supporting the rule, bringing the dead deal back to life.
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) was the first Republican to switch. His situation is unique.
In an interview with the Detroit News, Bentivolio said Boehner told him: “Kerry, you have to change your vote.”
Bentivolio lost a GOP primary this past August to Republican Dave Trott after a tumultuous first term in Congress. The departing member is a former reindeer farmer who used to dress up as Santa Claus. After the vote switch, Boehner ally and House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)–who provided the material support necessary to pass the bill procedurally–told him “You’re a good man, Santa.”
“Merry Christmas,” Bentivolio replied, according to Roll Call, asking Sessions to make sure his staff members get jobs after he leaves Congress.
With Bentivolio’s vote switched, the measure was tied 213-213.
Since the Democrats wouldn’t budge, leadership needed one more vote to be switched out of the remaining 17 Republicans holding the line: Stutzman and Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Dave Brat (R-VA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Paul Broun (R-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Steve King (R-IA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
Stutzman says he switched his vote on the floor because House GOP leadership–although he doesn’t name anyone–promised him that if the rule passed, the cromnibus would be replaced by a short-term spending measure. This Continuing Resolution (CR) would last until early next year when the newly elected GOP majority in the Senate takes over.
“Earlier today, I supported the Rule because I was informed by Leadership that the CROmnibus was dead and a short term CR would take its place,” Stutzman said in the statement issued the night of the vote, after the final passage of the cromnibus. “I was very surprised and even more disappointed to see the CROmnibus back on the floor. The American people deserve better.”
Stutzman may not have been leadership’s first choice. One member of the House who spoke on condition of anonymity told Breitbart News that McMorris Rodgers specifically targeted Labrador and other members–but they wouldn’t shift their votes. “I saw Cathy McMorris Rodgers in animated discussions,” that member said. “It wasn’t pleasant.”
That member also said McCarthy was speaking with several of the members. “I saw Kevin McCarthy talking with people,” that member said, noting that he didn’t personally witness the conversation between McCarthy and Stutzman.
Another member, however, did witness a conversation between McCarthy and Stutzman.
“I saw Kevin talking with Marlin, yes,” that House member said when reached by phone.
None of the members, staff, or key sources who Breitbart News spoke with would speak on the record, and none of them personally heard the conversation between Stutzman and McCarthy.
But the member who saw the conversation said that after Stutzman’s conversation with McCarthy, Stutzman approached a group of conservative members including this member and announced to the group the promise that McCarthy had supposedly made to him.
“He told quite a few folks around there about the conversation,” that member said when Breitbart News reached the member by phone, noting that Stutzman specifically told the group of conservatives that McCarthy made that promise about swapping the cromnibus with a short term CR. This member added that while most of the other members didn’t believe McCarthy’s promise, Stutzman did.
The first member, who said he was aware of the conversation between McCarthy and Stutzman but didn’t personally witness it, said the gravity of voting against a rule can’t be understated–and that it’s essentially a no-confidence vote in Boehner.
“If you vote no on a rule, House leadership considers that the worst vote you can make,” that member said, “They want to shut out the voices of the rank and file members. If you’re not a part of the club that negotiated the deal you don’t have a seat at the table. It’s not right.”
The other member added that this is normal behavior by GOP leadership and that conservatives conference-wide have grown wary of trusting Boehner and his team.
“This is a pattern of deception,” the member said. “This is par for the course. They said they’re against Obamacare and against executive amnesty, but then they went and funded it anyway.”
A third member, reached by phone, confirmed the details of what the other two said but declined to be quoted, even anonymously. Several key congressional staffers confirmed the details, too, and another Capitol Hill source who regularly communicates directly with members told Breitbart News that McCarthy supposedly made the same promise to other members.
“I heard that McCarthy said that to Stutzman but also to other members,” that source said. “The most interesting thing is McCarthy doesn’t have that power. If I was a member, and McCarthy told me that, I would have asked him to grab Boehner for me and have him tell me that.”
A senior aide to McCarthy said that not only did McCarthy not say this to Stutzman–or anyone else–during their conversation on the floor, but no member of leadership or the whip team told him the cromnibus would be replaced. “At no time during the rule vote was that communicated to any member by either the leadership team or the whip team,” the McCarthy aide said.
Stutzman’s spokesman John Stapleton–who when presented with questions for this new story refused interviews or further comments and again declined to confirm or deny any more details for Breitbart News–says the congressman won’t talk further in public about this. Stapleton also said that no one who personally heard the conversation between McCarthy and Stutzman has come forward yet; it’s Stutzman’s word versus McCarthy’s, at least for now.
Previously, GOP leadership issued through aides carefully worded denials of what Stutzman alleged–saying specifically that Boehner didn’t speak with Stutzman.
“A GOP leadership aide said Stutzman’s account was incorrect and that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) never spoke to him about the bill,” The Hill’s Scott Wong wrote last week, quoting the GOP aide as saying: “We don’t know what he is talking about.”
“An aide to House speaker John Boehner says he made no such pledge,” the National Review’s Joel Gehrke wrote on Thursday afternoon just before 3 p.m., right after the House recessed for several hours while Boehner, Scalise, and McCarthy worked GOP members to get the votes necessary to pass the cromnibus bill.
Gehrke’s piece mirror’s what Stutzman would say in his statement after the cromnibus passed.
“I’m hearing from two sources, including one Republican lawmaker, that Representative Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) provided one of the final, decisive votes needed to clear a crucial procedural hurdle because House leadership promised to pull the cromnibus and replace it with a short-term continuing resolution that would push the entire funding debate into next year,” Gehrke wrote.
In those pieces, however, nobody had alleged Boehner was the one who made the promise. McCarthy is the leadership official who did in fact speak with Stutzman on the floor, and seems to have convinced him to switch his vote.