Hours before a small group of Republicans will seek to block Speaker John Boehner’s reelection on the House floor, GOP lawmakers, including those sympathetic to conservative criticisms of the Ohio Republican, are asking why the group made no effort to contest Boehner in a closed-door election held in November.
“My point is, if you think someone else should be speaker then the time to do that is when you’re formally organizing your conference. You need to go around whipping votes and talking to people. To pull it now like we did two years ago, at the last minute – and it’s going to fail, of course – it defies sensibility, to me,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), a leading immigration hawk.
“It seems to me like if you wanted to run for speaker you should have put your hat in the ring back in November,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), newly elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s conservative caucus.
“That’s how it’s supposed to work,” added Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), who himself abstained from voting for Boehner two years ago in the speaker reelection vote. “We had an election in November for Speaker. And no one opposed John Boehner. I find it hard to believe that those folks who really don’t like Mr. Boehner today suddenly discovered that they didn’t like him between November and today,” he said.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a leader of the parallel 2013 effort to depose Boehner through the floor vote, said Boehner’s conservative critics couldn’t have mounted opposition then because committee chairmanships were awarded shortly after the closed-door vote.
“Let’s see, the committee chairmanships were assigned three days later, and the committee assignments came after that. I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous to think that something’s going to precipitate then. If you go back and look at history I think you’ll find that this always happens on the floor. It doesn’t happen in conference,” Massie said.
Massie, who said he recently watched C-SPAN footage of the 2013 floor vote and got a “knot in his stomach” just from watching the high-stakes moment, estimated 50 Republicans would vote to block Boehner’s reelection if the event weren’t on live television.
“If they had to sit home in their district and make this vote, this would be easy for them. But you get separated from the rest of the world. You’re inside a chamber that’s got over 100 years of history. There’s a lot of pressure there. It manifests itself physically on members,” Massie said.
The Kentucky Republican says his problem with Boehner’s leadership is that bills have come to the floor without sufficient time to review them.
“I’m not saying that the speaker’s not conservative enough. I’m not calling anybody a RINO. What I’m saying is, we need more than two days to read a 1,600 page bill,” Massie said. “We should quit creating our own fiscal crisis the day before Christmas break. That was done by leadership to get leverage over members. It’s very patronizing, and that needs to fix.”
Other organizers of the anti-Boehner effort were modest in their predictions about whether they would successfully block the speaker from winning the vote.
Under House rules, the speaker must receive an absolute majority of votes cast for a person. Although a deadlocked vote has not occurred since 1923, in several instances it took the House numerous ballots to elect a speaker. The most dramatic example occurred in 1856, when Nathaniel Banks won the speakership on the 133rd ballot.
“We’re trying to determine [how many people will vote against Boehner], but, it’s growing. I think we’ve got a good chance if people step up to do what they said,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who has offered himself as a candidate for the post.
“I think I better not guess – it would not be wise. It’s a growing number and it is possible,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
Several lawmakers declined to comment on whether they would support Boehner, including Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
“You know, we’re going to see what the day holds. We’re going to see what the day holds,” Blackburn said.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), whose name has often been floated as a possible candidate to vie against Boehner by others but has passed several opportunities to challenge the speaker, said, “when I’m ready to make a statement I’ll make a statement. Thank you!”