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February 7, 2016

House Conservatives Agitate for Change in Leadership — but Can They Take Boehner’s Gavel?

John Boehner Eric Cantor

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Conservatives are increasingly — and not so quietly — showing the early signs of a speakership revolt. But short of a sudden groundswell of opposition from the GOP rank and file, or a magic wand, Speaker John A. Boehner is the one who controls his fate.

Just don’t tell that to the Ohio Republican’s foes.

“I think pretty well everybody’s figured Mr. Boehner’s going to be gone, and the question is Cantor and McCarthy,” said Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. “But most conservatives are saying it’s not just at the top; it’s all the way through.”

Huelskamp, who was more than an active player in the last Boehner coup, told CQ Roll Call there are “a lot of meetings going on” about who could be speaker in the 114th Congress, and if Boehner should decide to say, conservatives are discussing how to remove him.

“I think there’s efforts underway to do that,” Huelskamp said.

It’s common congressional knowledge that Huelskamp and Boehner aren’t the best of friends. Boehner stripped Huelskamp of his seat on Financial Services for the 113th. And Huelskamp had a whip list the last time conservatives tried to usurp the speakership. Recently asked about his relationship with Boehner, Huelskamp summed it up this way: “I don’t smoke and I don’t suntan.”

The plan to ditch Boehner sounds similar to the GOP rebellion that ousted Newt Gingrich at the end of 1998: present the speaker with so much opposition behind closed doors that he’s forced to step aside.

But unlike Gingrich, it’s not the rank-and-file opposing Boehner, it’s not GOP leaders; Boehner’s opposition is localized to the same dissident conservatives who have been a thorn in his side for years.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said his boss has “a better relationship with his members right now than at any time.”

“As he has said many times, he fully expects to be speaker again next Congress,” Buck said. And Boehner lieutenants backed those statements up.

Rep. Tom Cole, who said he didn’t want to “speculate on what I don’t think is going to happen,” told CQ Roll Call this week that Boehner’s standing is “awfully strong” within the GOP conference.

“Any effort, I think, to upset the conference’s decision is really not an attack on John Boehner; it’s an attack on the Republican conference,” Cole said. “It didn’t work last time, it’s not going to work the next time.”

Another Boehner ally, Republican Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, noted that it’s difficult to satisfy everyone, but he said Boehner is better than most at uniting the GOP conference.

“It would be hard for me to say that there’s actually someone better to gather everyone together,” he said.

And Kelly thinks Boehner is poised to stay in power, “especially if we are able to take the Senate.”

If Republicans take control of the Senate, it’s difficult to imagine Boehner stepping aside. And even if the GOP doesn’t win the Senate, moving out of the way just to appease his conservative detractors doesn’t exactly fit with Boehner’s style.

If the majority of the conference is behind the speaker, conservatives could retry their plan from the last coup: block Boehner from achieving a majority and throw a speaker election to a second ballot.

There were 12 Republicans who didn’t vote for Boehner last time: Huelskamp, Justin Amash of Michigan, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Paul Broun of Georgia, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, Steve Stockman of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida.

Should Republicans pick up seats in the House, it would boost Boehner, but it also would make the math to overthrow him more difficult. Republicans fell five votes short in 2013; a greater majority means more defectors would need to step forward to oust the speaker.

One member, granted anonymity to discuss the desire to get rid of Boehner, said he is talking with 15 or 20 members about the idea of implementing a “vetting process” for choosing a replacement candidate for speaker. CQ Roll Call raised the point that 15 or 20 members would roughly be what is necessary to throw a speaker election to a second ballot. The member’s response? “Funny how that is.”

There’s plenty of pressure to ditch Boehner outside the Capitol. The Tea Party Patriots have been collecting more than 100,000 signatures on a “Fire the Speaker” petition, the Senate Conservatives Fund said Boehner should be replaced as recently as February, and conservative pundits all over the country have seized on the speaker’s removal as a purity issue.

But whether Boehner decides to leave, or whether his detractors decide to revolt, conservatives still face an essential question: Who will replace him?

“I think a lot of folks would like to see somebody like Jim Jordan or Jeb Hensarling run, more conservative-minded folks,” said Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

Jordan and Hensarling, both former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee, are frequently mentioned by the agitators.

Ohio’s Jordan seems to be the preference among more right-wing members, but Hensarling, with 23 fellow Republicans from Texas, is perhaps considered more feasible.

“Texas is the large voting bloc, and they can’t be ignored,” Duncan said.

There’s a big problem with this conservative revolt scenario, though: Neither Hensarling nor Jordan seem all that interested.

Hensarling has publicly — and privately, according to multiple members — said he doesn’t want the job right now, and Jordan says the same.

“I am focused on this year,” Jordan said when CQ Roll Call asked whether he might be interested. “Not that. None of that. I’m not focused on any of that stuff.”

And if Jordan and Hensarling aren’t interested — and if Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin isn’t a palatable choice for the right-wing — it’s hard to see anyone taking the job from Boehner, or Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., should the speaker retire.

The 2013 coup failed, according to one member, because there was no one willing to step up and run against Boehner — and some members didn’t think Cantor was an improvement.

“He’s not a conservative,” Huelskamp said of Cantor. “He only became a conservative after the 2010 election.”

But, again, that’s Huelskamp’s assessment. Others say there’s no reason to question the Virginia Republican’s ideology.

Asked if Cantor is conservative enough to be speaker, Iowa Republican Steve King answered that he “wouldn’t say he’s not.”

RSC chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., almost seemed offended by the question. “Clearly Eric’s a conservative,” he said, adding that “there’s no race for speaker right now.”

Even Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said he thought Cantor was “conservative enough,” though Gohmert warned that “there’s a lot more that has to go into picking a speaker than whether they’re conservative enough.”

Gohmert specifically brought up concerns over leadership’s secret deal with Democrats to pass last month’s “doc fix.”

A number of members irritated by Boehner and Cantor mentioned that the March 26 vote — which was gaveled through the chamber in a voice vote so quickly that many Republicans later said they didn’t realize what had happened — was a turning point for discussions about new leadership.

Regular critics, like Massie, made passionate speeches to the conference on the matter, but so did less frequent leadership skeptics, like Luke Messer of Indiana.

“As you look at who might be next, it’s important that people understand that they can trust whoever our leader is, and, you know, these kinds of events can be defining,” Messer said of the “doc fix” vote.

And after he went on and on about how the vote was a major violation of trust, Messer poured on the praise for Cantor and said the incident “absolutely would not prevent me from voting for someone for speaker.”

And that seems to be where the majority of the GOP conference stands. Yes, there are members frustrated with leadership, and, yes, they’re talking.

“There’s discussions going on around this Capitol,” King said. “That has been the case for some time … It’s been going on throughout this entire 113th Congress.”

But has anything really changed?

“I don’t know that any tectonic plates have shifted dramatically,” King said. “Circumstances are what they are, and we’ll see where the dialogue goes.”

Related stories:

Conservatives Still Fuming Over Secret ‘Doc Fix’ Voice Vote (Video)
Tea Party Pointing Fingers at GOP Leadership, 5 Years In
Breaking Down the 12 Republican ‘No’ Votes on Ryan Budget
Is Boehner’s Gavel on the Line?
Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans
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  • Brenda Huddleston

    Trey Gowdy

    • John Prospero

      Yes….and then in 2016 Attorney General….with task #1…prosecuting the previous Attorney General for his laundry list of offenses….

      • Brenda Huddleston

        I certainly hope so!

  • Arizona Don

    It may not be just at the top but it has to start somewhere and Boehner is a good place to start. He should go yesterday. I have to admit I had big hopes for him when he took over from polosi, that is until he cried and then it hit me like a ton of bricks we got a pansy to stand up to obama. Then it seems he was soon coopted, or is that corrupted, into joining the “gang.” So he lost most of everyone’s confidence including many of the members of the House, long ago. There are many very good Representatives why should we have to settle for one who has become liberal progressive or at the very least progressive like McCain, Graham and McConnell. However, if he is replaced with Cantor we may not improve “much.” Hopefully that will not happen.

  • Beeker

    The conservatives forget one thing about getting the Speaker’s job: shepherding the bills through the House that they may have to vote on bills they may be against to show they are getting things done. Voters don’t like it when politicians bicker like children.

    • John Prospero

      Sooo… vote on things you are ideologically opposed to in order to create the perception that your “getting things done”? Well that sounds like a recipe for success…..
      Should the next speaker follow Harry Reids example…of calling the grassroots of the Democrats legislative suicide bombers…or political donors “un-american” from the the litigation immune protection of the house floor?……

      • Raylusk

        One shouldn’t vote based on their ideology. They should vote on facts and evidence and more importantly what is best for America. I hope Boehner gets removed as speaker even if he is replace by a Tea Party candidate which I despise. All for the reason that Boehner over and over has caved to right wing conservatives in order to protect his job as speaker rather than doing what is right for America.

    • Layla

      We need some new leadership. Current leaders in the House and Senate have too many failures. If there are not some changes made, don’t be surprised when people bail out of the GOP for the Independent party. And don’t be too surprised when a 3rd party Presidential candidate pops up with more votes than the GOP candidate.

      Reminder to the Dems: Many of these Independents were former members of your party. Very difficult to tell the difference anymore!

  • John Prospero

    I hope Cantor doesn’t get the speakership….it will just be a Boehner re-run with added snivel…..

  • ShadrachSmith

    Internal debate about the direction of the party is a good and healthy thing. I will support whoever wins but always favor the more conservative one.

  • Layla

    Most Republicans will tell you that they believe there should have been a change in House and Senate leadership after losing two Presidential campaigns. Unlike Congress, the people are now realizing you can’t send the same people back to Washington and expect anything different to happen. Listen to the people, Mr. Boehner.

    • Raylusk

      If Boehner listened to the American people then immigration reform would have passed, minimum wages would have been raised, unemployment insurance would have been extended, there would have been no more votes to repeal the ACA, and the government wouldn’t have been shut down over the attempt to defund the ACA. These are all things polls showed the American people wanted.

      • left wing

        no, only the freeloaders and the democratic party wanted those “things”.

        • Raylusk

          Wrong again the majority of Americans want them. Of course many in the Red States don’t want them despite the fact that the Red States are the real freeloaders as has been proved over and over. You lies will not be allowed. Now piss off you disgusting piece of filth.

          • Layla

            Let’s see the polling, Ray. Go ahead, give me another phony link. Kind of frightening to me that you are being allowed to post here. Shows me how far the Hill has fallen. Too bad. It used to be a reputable publication.

          • stevenharnack

            Yes different voices are so so! scary to conservatives, aren’t they? If you get too frightened just remember that you can always log off! (that’s a polite way of saying something else)

      • Layla

        Oh Ray….dream on. We have millions of Americans who have lost homes, jobs, everything. They are NOT about to support making illegals legal. NOT gonna happen. There are people camping in the woods in my town who have lost everything. Almost 50% of the population are now on food stamps. The answer is NOT amnesty. The American people know that Congress has no intention of securing our borders. California cities have been ruined by illegal immigration. Drop the politics, Ray. The country has had enough.

  • camdenme2

    Boehner needs to go !!

  • left wing

    boehner will lose his gavel by selling out the pubs to the dems and no one will vote for the pubs and the dems will take the house.

  • Traid Domon

    I heard Jim Cramer is behind the website Traders Superstore now, I don’t know if that’s true but I’m a member there and I’m learning to trade from them there course material is excellent and so is their support. I can recommend them if anybody is interested in learning to trade like I am.

  • Mike Crichton

    The principles of morality and liberty serve as a basis for the rules of law intended to prevent unequal treatment and plunder by the state.

  • elf

  • Ama Zohn

    Standing against the injustice of plunder in no way implies that one regards advancement of the less fortunate as an unworthy cause.

  • jfgalt

    Too late, they left the leftists in charge for too long and the damage is done. The House has nobody with enough gumption to do anything effect at this point.

  • gun_nut

    Jim Jordan would be great. Hensarling, Huelskamp, Gohmert.

    Boehner has been helping Obama for too long.


    John Boehner is NOT RIGHT about many things, the most important being the unemployment extension bill. With 2.6 Million families having been affected by his refusal to pass the extension bill in the senate, he and other republicans like him, have contributed to the pain and anguish of these millions of unemployed families, with little hope and income. He is a poor excuse for either a politician or human being that I can think of. How can he sleep KNOWING that families have been made homeless due to his decisions? Is it all JUST ABOUT him and taking care of HIS family, and the HECK with the rest of us? The Republicans have done a much worse disservice to themselves than to the unemployed in our country. Because now there are 2.6 Million of Angry voters, that WILL NOT vote for the republican party next elections. Was it worth it??

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