Minutes after making what he described as a last-minute decision to join right-wing insurgents’ failed effort to block the sitting Speaker of the House from reelection, Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) spoke slowly and carefully as he expressed how he thought it might change his political career.
“One thing I respect the speaker for, and, I believe it will be true with me – we’ll find out – he’s not a vindictive man,” Rigell told reporters, adding, “I don’t know.”
Following the second failed coup attempt in two such elections, some of Speaker John Boehner’s allies are pining for revenge, though many Republicans say vengeance just isn’t in his nature. Asked whether the dissidents would face repercussions, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), a Boehner confidant, said, “I don’t know, but there should be.”
“The way it’s supposed to work is you run for speaker in our conference. None of these individuals did. They didn’t have the cajones to run in conference. And as I would have told any one of them, if they wanted to run in conference and they got the majority of votes in conference, that’s who I’d have voted for, for speaker, even though I wanted John. And that’s the way you work as a team. These guys haven’t figured that out yet,” Simpson added.
“I opposed him two years ago and it didn’t affect me,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), the first of the conservatives who offered his name up as a challenger three days before the election. “I’ve already talked to him and I just said, ‘Congratulations, I look forward to working with you to make this the best Congress they’ve ever seen’ and that’s my goal.”
Yoho, who voted for himself, received two votes total. Other lawmakers who received votes include Reps. Daniel Webster (R-FL) with 12, Jim Jordan (R-OH) with 2, Louie Gohmert (R-TX) with 3, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). That’s a total of 25 GOP votes against Boehner, more than double the last failed coup effort but still significantly fewer than needed to force a second ballot.
Whether Boehner and the rest of House leadership will move against the group is unclear.
“It obviously doesn’t endear those people to the speaker and the leadership. I don’t know if it will take them off the Christmas Card list, but it may not help,” said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a conservative member who voted for Boehner.
“I have no idea. John Boehner’s always been a live and let live kind of guy,” said a key Boehner ally who spoke on the condition of anonymity, adding, “In the past they have not had any repercussions, so we’ll see if they do. It’ll be interesting.”
But in Boehner’s circle, there was palpable anger.
“They complain about the Speaker being ineffective, well every step of the way they try to undermine his effectiveness,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), leader of the moderate Tuesday Group caucus. Dent added that the Right’s effort to defeat Boehner “was really not a serious or credible challenge. This was simply a publicity stunt.”
“If I was someone who actually ran for speaker and got one or two votes, it’d be kind of embarrassing,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a Boehner friend. Rep. Steve Stivers, a fellow Ohio Republican who is close to Boehner, mocked the challengers for voting for themselves, a break with House tradition. “If you’re going to break tradition, win!” he said.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he is already facing consequences for his decision to vote against Boehner after previously pledging to vote for the speaker. Huelskamp alleged that after he tweeted he would vote against Boehner Tuesday morning he received a call from a chairman of a committee under which he was hoping to attain a subcommittee chairmanship. The chairman told him he was no longer in contention for the post.
“An hour after I announced, when I tweeted out, an hour later he called me and says, ‘I want to let you know we worked really hard but leadership team won’t let it happen.’” Huelskamp declined to specify the chairman called him or which subcommittee chairmanship he was in contention for.
Former-Rep. Tom Davis, who was on the floor during the vote, said punishing the rebels could backfire.
“The speaker’s gotta make that decision because you need ’em on other votes. It’s a tough call in terms of how you handle this thing. Some are incorrigible, some, you’re going to need them on other votes. Some I expect, will never be there on any votes,” Davis said.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who voted for Webster, said the effort will have a positive impact despite having failed.
“I’m just grateful we came as close as we did. We wanted to send a message: the American people are very upset by this leadership. I mean I have not had this many phone calls since the shutdown of the government. It is just unbelievable.” Jones said, recalling a phone call he received from a Massachusetts resident this morning requesting he not vote for Boehner,” Jones said.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), who sat silently in his seat during the first time his name was called only to vote for Boehner when it was called a second time, said the episode could help send a message.
“I think that it’s not a bad message that we sent. I think that sending a message that there is a different line of thinking within the conference keeps everybody on their toes and that’s healthy. I think one of the reasons that Republicans are able to garner as much support as we do nationally is because we don’t march in lockstep. We aren’t a bunch of mindless lemmings that follow just because somebody says so,” Salmon said.
Explaining his decision to initially abstain from voting, Salmon said, “It was clear to me that there was not going to be another speaker and so my thought was — for the sake of unity it was probably the best course of action,” he said, later adding: “Let’s just say I had a real internal struggle on my vote today.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a fierce immigration hawk and critic of Boehner’s who voted for the speaker on the floor, said he wanted to avoid the chaos of a deadlocked vote, which has not occurred since 1923. “I voted for John Boehner because I believe it was the best of the available options. To not have done so would have resulted in days, weeks or months — nobody knows for sure how long it would have taken — before 218 of us could have agreed on a speaker of the house,” Brooks said.
Underscoring the last-minute nature of the contest, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who voted for Boehner, said it was only this morning that he received his first appeals for support both from Boehner’s camp and the dissidents. “If we’re going to change leadership, we need to do it in a more focused and organized way. I wasn’t happy with the process. I don’t think we should make a change on the fly like this on the last day,” Fleming said, explaining his vote.