House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to retaliate, or exact “revenge” as Politico puts it, against at least two House members who voted against him is haunting Republicans who supported him conference-wide and sparking a discussion in the party about the role Boehner should play as Speaker—and Republican members should play in challenging his authority.
On Tuesday, the largest rebellion by members of a political party against a sitting House Speaker seeking re-election since the Civil War broke out on the House floor. Twenty-four House Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner. Declared candidates were Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Daniel Webster (R-FL). One other member, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), voted “present.”
The mere fact that three candidates ran against Boehner from within his party, and that so many members voted against him—and many others are having trouble defending their votes for Boehner to angry constituents back home—gave even the Speaker himself some pause, he said at a press conference on Thursday.
“Listen, I’ve given some thought to this as you might imagine,” Boehner responded when asked why there’s so much conservative opposition to his speakership from both inside Congress and outside, where leaders such as Fox News’ Sean Hannity has called for Boehner to go many times.
“The American people are very frustrated,” Boehner continued. “They’re frustrated with a struggling economy, they’re frustrated that they don’t think Washington is listening, and they want action. I talk to Americans every day. I talk to my constituents every day, and this frustration that’s out there—they need to take it out on somebody. They take it out on the president, they take it out on me and this comes with the territory.”
In response to a followup question, the Speaker—who by tradition rarely casts any votes in Congress unless his vote is needed to pass contested legislation—answered by arguing his voting record when he did vote was the “eighth most conservative voting record” in Congress.
“It does pain me to be described as spineless or a squish and I will tell you what pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment,” Boehner said. “Now, I’m the most anti-establishment Speaker we’ve ever had. Who was the guy who got rid of earmarks? Me. Who’s the guy who believes in regular order? Me. Who believes in allowing more members to participate in the process from both sides of the aisle? Me.”
While that sounds good, Boehner has broken regular order—and not allowed members to participate in the process—frequently. In fact, a five-page document that circulated around conservative circles on Capitol Hill leading up to the speakership vote on Tuesday noted several instances where Boehner broke transparency and regular order rules and norms—including rules he created—in just this past Congress.
There were other times throughout his first term as Speaker heading into the 2012 election where he also didn’t follow regular order. The document points to how Boehner has been “manipulating” the so-called three-day rule—where members and the public were supposed to have three full days, or 72 hours, to read legislation before the House voted on it—to mean instead that bills could be made public late one night and voted on early two days later. When Yoho, one of Boehner’s GOP alternative challengers for the Speakership, stood up in conference the night before the vote asking for a hard 72-hour rule, Boehner’s top two lieutenants—Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise—fought against the effort for transparency.
“I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin and I’m going to do my best to show all of our members, Democrats and Republicans, and those members who voted against me, that I’m up to the job I was given,” Boehner continued.
Nonetheless, within hours of the vote on Tuesday, Boehner’s aides rushed to Politico and Bloomberg News, among others, to announce his “revenge” against the Republicans who voted their conscience for an alternative.
Two of the most powerful members, Boehner alternative Webster and Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL), were stripped from their slots on the House Rules Committee. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) told the press he was retaliated against by having his original cosponsorship of major planned legislation taken away.
Gohmert, another of the alternatives against Boehner, responded harshly to the retaliation, calling Boehner a “sore winner.”
“After being told that we should now all come together and work together, we have been told late today that two of our Congressmen are being taken off of the committee they were on, simply for voting like their voters wanted,” Gohmert said in his post-mortem statement. “So, it appears before we can work together, we are now going to have another fight. It would be a shame if the Speaker of the House who has so much power is a sore winner.”
Two leaders of this year’s rebellion, Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), called on Boehner to reinstate the Republicans he purged from their committee slots.
“According to the Congressional Record, Congressmen Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent, Members who voted against John Boehner as Speaker of the House, have been kicked off the Rules Committee,” Massie and Bridenstine said in a joint statement on Thursday evening. “This retribution compromises the ability of Members of Congress to faithfully represent their constituents and subverts our representative democracy. The Speaker must immediately reinstate these Members. No Member should be punished for voting his or her conscience. We expect other Members of the House of Representatives to condemn this act of political retribution.”
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ)—a conservative who ultimately voted for Boehner the second time the roll was called after he sat out the first time—tells the Washington Examiner that Boehner’s plans to further retaliate against members including Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), another Republican who voted for an alternative, would be seen by the conference as an act of war against Republicans. The Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio and David Drucker quoted a number of anonymous members in Boehner’s circles to suggest that Garrett may lose a Financial Services Committee subcommittee chairmanship.
“If that happens, all hell is going to break loose,” Salmon said in response to the notion of retaliation. “If the leaders feel the discontentment was contained with just 24 people, they are wrong. They are going to find that number grows exponentially.”
Indeed, as Ferrechio reported in a second piece, for really the first time in history the grassroots aimed to pressure their members of Congress to vote for a Republican alternative to Boehner—in essence making the vote for Speaker of the House, for the first time ever, a key vote.
“It wasn’t the Republican votes against House Speaker John Boehner that truly rattled the GOP leadership, it was the phone calls,” Ferrechio wrote. “There were hundreds of them, jamming the phone lines of the district and Capitol offices of dozens of House GOP lawmakers. The callers were not angry about legislation. Nor were they asking for help with a local matter. They were demanding their representative vote against Boehner Tuesday in his bid to win election to a third term as speaker.”
Statements from several members who voted for Boehner after the fact indicated just how rattled they were.
“Over the past week, many of you have contacted me asking me to vote against John Boehner for Speaker of the House,” Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), who faced calls from some powerful state senators in his district to vote against Boehner—potential primary challengers against him next cycle—said in a statement after voting for Boehner. “Americans are frustrated with the leadership in Washington, and they should be. President Obama and his liberal friends are destroying this country and we have to fight back.”
Palazzo added that he met with Boehner the day before “one-on-one and man-to-man” for “more than an hour” and “asked him directly whether he was going to be a conservative leader who will stand up to the liberal agenda of President Obama.”
Palazzo said that Boehner told him “unequivocally” that “yes” he would be a conservative leader and stand up to Obama’s agenda—and he’d vote for Boehner just one last time if Boehner’s antics continued.
“I believe him and am willing to give the Speaker and his team a last chance to put us back on a conservative path for America,” Palazzo said. “If Speaker Boehner refuses to put forward conservative solutions immediately to our nation’s problems, I will vehemently oppose his every move.”
Since Boehner began retaliating against the Republicans who voted against him, however, Palazzo has remained silent, and his spokeswoman Jill Duckworth hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment from Breitbart News.
That prompted those state Senators, Chris McDaniel—who lost his bid for U.S. Senate last year despite winning more Republican votes than Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in both the primary and the runoff, which Cochran won because his campaign courted Democrats to cross over into the GOP primary runoff—and Michael Watson, who worked on McDaniel’s campaign, to call out Palazzo and his House colleagues like Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) again.
“Conservatives around the U.S. exhorted their leaders to vote for conservative change in the U.S. house, and now Speaker Boehner is punishing them for their conservative vote by removing committee assignments,” McDaniel said on Facebook. “Although they supported the establishment with their votes, Reps. Palazzo and Harper should, at the very least, stand up against leadership’s bullying vindictiveness and demand that Speaker Boehner work alongside conservatives instead of marginalizing them.”
“I encourage the statesmen in Washington to stand strong against Speaker Boehner’s retaliation,” Watson added in a statement emailed to Breitbart News. “There is freedom in being cut loose from having to play those political games- freedom to tell the truth, freedom to vote your conscience. I know what it is like to be stripped of your committee assignments. Leadership is actually easier outside of that system. You may not get credit or your name on your ideas, but most of your good ideas get picked up by other legislators, and the legislation makes it onto the books, which is all that matters.”
Harper, through a spokesman, officially declined to comment on Boehner’s retaliation against Republicans even though McDaniel and Watson are asking him to stand up against it. Harper’s Jackson-centered district is more favorable to the GOP establishment than Palazzo’s, but he could too face a primary challenge from angered conservatives in the state.
There were several freshman Republican members like West Virginia’s Alex Mooney, Georgia’s Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk, Wisconsin’s Glenn Grothman, and more who violated campaign pledges to vote for a Boehner alternative.
Making matters even more interesting was a statement that newly elected Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) had originally issued to the Washington Examiner. Love—who had not promised constituents ahead of time she’d oppose Boehner—had told the Examiner’s Ashe Schow that she believed a vote for a Republican alternative to Boehner to be a vote, in essence, for Pelosi.
“There were no qualified or notable campaigns for speaker within the Republican Party other than John Boehner,” Love said. “Casting a vote for a candidate who has not actively campaigned and does not have the support to be speaker is an indirect vote for Nancy Pelosi, and I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi.”
Love has been hammered by conservatives in the days since not only for voting for Boehner but also for the argument she made to an Examiner reporter who previously labeled the coup effort against Boehner as “farcical,” which essentially accused the 25 who stood up to Boehner of indirectly supporting Pelosi.
In a lengthy statement since provided to Breitbart News, Love admitted that her original comments to the Examiner were inaccurate and apologized.
On Tuesday, my vote for elect John Boehner as Speaker of the House was a vote for Republican Party unity, plain and simple. I don’t agree with everything Speaker Boehner has done or said, just as I have differences with many other colleagues. But I still have faith in our party and the American people who elected us to be in charge of both houses of Congress. Coming off a historic election that sent a strong message to Washington, I believe that now is the time to unify our party and our message around a positive reform agenda, not expose unnecessary division with symbolic votes that allow the Democrats and the media to divert the country’s attention away from our accomplishment. Republicans have substantive differences when it comes to policy and I look forward to having those debates. But I see greater benefit in using our first step to put our best foot forward.
I regret I misspoke when I said a vote against Boehner was an indirect vote for Nancy Pelosi. I understand now that is not the case. But I take serious issue with those who have hastily claimed I have ‘sold out’ or ‘broken my promises.’ On the contrary, my promise was to give a voice to the issues that are important to Utahns. And I have every intention of keeping that promise, and making them proud.
I will fight make this country more free, secure, and prosperous no matter who stands in the way – Republican or Democrat. I will spend every day in Congress defending hardworking taxpayers who want Washington to get out of their way. And I will work tooth and nail to make this government more efficient, effective, and accountable to the people. We can do this as a party, we can do this as a country, and I want to make sure we are all doing it together.
Meanwhile, other members, such as South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador—who were both part of the early 2013 coup effort but voted for Boehner in the end on the 2015 ballot—issued statements urging conservatives to organize better but also warning Boehner against further dividing Republicans.
“I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington,” Mulvaney said in a statement. “And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand. I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle.”
“Today, I made a difficult decision in voting for John Boehner for Speaker of the House,” Labrador added. “Many constituents from Idaho contacted me to let me know that I should not support him. I want them to know that I did not make this decision lightly. I share the view of the majority of my constituents who are deeply frustrated by the way the House has run the last four years.”
Both Labrador and Mulvaney noted that the coup attempt they were a part of two years ago fell apart at the last moment, after several members switched their plans to vote against Boehner—breaking commitments they had previously made to oppose him.
“My vote for Mr. Boehner is not an endorsement of his past leadership,” Labrador added. “Just as I have done during my first two terms in office, I will continue to fight for the American people and hold our leadership accountable.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), another hardline conservative who ended up voting for Boehner, noted also that conservatives need to better organize. “Despite serious reservations, today I voted for John Boehner for House Speaker because there was no better option before me,” Brooks said. “I would have loved the opportunity to elect a principled Speaker who shares Alabama’s conservative values. Unfortunately, that was not a viable option because we lack the votes to elect such a Speaker.”
Brooks said conservatives need to bring more members into their tent and work on electing more conservatives to the House, so that something like this effort could be more successful next time around.
“Elections have consequences,” Brooks said. “In 2014, the liberal, establishment wing of the Republican Conference won more elections than did the Republican conservative wing.”
If conservatives get better organized moving forward, they could in fact block leadership from doing things they disagree with—and on that point, several of the more senior House conservatives including Mulvaney, Labrador, and Brooks are correct. With the next big battle being whether Republicans will provide funding for Obama’s executive amnesty in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill which runs out of funding at the end of February, only a short time will tell if they get together in a more organized fashion outside the clutches of GOP leadership.