Atlantic: Conservatives Run House, Not GOP Leadership

Atlantic: Conservatives Run House, Not GOP Leadership

Conservatives in the House of Representatives wield the majority of the power in the lower chamber since the beginning of this Congress, a Friday article in The Atlantic suggests.

“On a frigid Wednesday afternoon in January, Speaker John Boehner sat in a conference room at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., acknowledging the limits of his authority,” author Tim Alberta writes.

For the past two years, the Republican Study Committee–a caucus of the most conservative representatives–had defied his leadership, plotted against his policy proposals, and, just two weeks earlier, organized a revolt to dethrone him. A group of RSC malcontents, exasperated with Boehner’s stewardship of the House Republican Conference during the previous session of Congress, persuaded 12 members to oppose Boehner in an effort to replace him with a more conservative leader, just five shy of the number necessary to force a second ballot. This would have legitimized the putsch and provided cover for nominal loyalists to abandon their chief.

Alberta argues that though Boehner “survived” the insurrection, he was “battered and humbled” and did not have “time to hold grudges.”

Therefore, he set out to regain the trust of conservative members in the House. Boehner met with four RSC leaders: former chairmen Reps. Tom Price (R-GA), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and Jim Jordan (R-OH), and current chairman Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). House Budget Committee chairman and former Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) also attended the meeting.

“Not long ago, it would have been ludicrous for the House speaker to approach the Republican Study Committee on bended knee, much less to depend on it to restore harmony to the conference,” Alberta writes, after noting Boehner requested the meeting to discuss fixing the focus of the Republican Party based on what the conservatives wanted, not the leadership. 

The committee’s philosophy of governance would vex any speaker: Members consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second. They did not come to Washington to play for the Republican team; they came to fight for conservative principles. If that means voting against party interests, so be it. For core RSC believers, ideological purity trumps legislative accomplishment. Period.

The agreement they reached, according to Alberta, is that Boehner and his leadership team “would support a series of conservative policy solutions to the upcoming list of legislative challenges,” in return for the “temporary extension of the debt limit in January.” Internally, Alberta notes, the agreement is referred to as “the Williamsburg Accord.”

Alberta argues, too, that the RSC is now, for the first time in its history, winning. “The Republican Study Committee has, throughout its history, been ideologically pure yet often impotent to achieve legislative results,” he writes. “Now, for the first time in its 40-year history, the stars have aligned. Not only is the RSC still emphasizing ideology over partisanship–and passing conservative policy in the process–but it is also pulling the entire conference rightward.”

RSC executive director Paul Teller, a widely regarded conservative leader in the House, said the RSC is “hitting our stride.”

“Now the RSC finds itself more powerful and accomplished than it has ever been, mainly because its members decided to set aside their suspicions and strike a deal with leadership,” Alberta writes. “It’s still a fragile relationship, likely to shatter at any sign of ideological betrayal. But, according to many conservatives, Boehner has finally earned the trust of the Republican Study Committee.”