For what is being called the first time ever, those closest to Speaker of the House John Boehner are expressing serious concerns about Boehner’s future in the chamber’s top spot.
John Boehner has been challenged before; back in January, Texas firebrand Louie Gohmert put his name in the hat for the top spot; two dozen members of the caucus turned their backs on Boehner, but as has happened before, the opposition wasn’t nearly widespread enough to oust him from power. Then, at the end of July, North Carolina Mark Meadows filed a “motion to vacate the chair” in what he said was an effort to get Republicans talking about the sharp divide between leadership and a small group of conservatives. Right-leaning advocacy organizations again took up the charge, encouraging followers to contact their representatives to demand change.
And now, we have this—a Politico exclusive featuring both on- and off-the-record comments expressing doubts about Boehner’s ability to lead the caucus.
“That’s a personal decision he has to make. I don’t know why he would want to, personally,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), when asked whether Boehner would run again. “But I do think that he feels, in his heart of hearts, he feels like he’s doing what’s best for this country — regardless of what the political consequences are. That says something about somebody.”
Talk of Boehner’s possible demise is as old as his speakership, of course. The mild-tempered Ohio Republican has experienced wild swings in his political fortunes, going from hero to Republican-in-name-only in a matter of days. Earlier this year, roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers voted against his bid for a third term as speaker. Each time, Boehner has survived and returned to health.
But consider what he faces this fall: a quixotic but determined fight to defund Planned Parenthood, a potential government shutdown, a deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk default, and a contentious showdown over highway spending. Boehner’s aides say they expect a vote to oust him, formally known as a motion to vacate the chair.
Boehner allies privately acknowledge the daunting challenge. “Who knows?” one ally said when asked if Boehner could beat back a coup attempt. “I don’t know. I don’t know how you change this dynamic.”
I don’t know how you “change this dynamic” either. Commentary on the situation in Congress is on a downslide—which makes me believe that the only way to change the dynamic is for Boehner to accept the challenge, but come out swinging. As the Politico piece points out, many of Boehner’s allies are frustrated by critics’ tendency to gloss over the things that leadership has managed to accomplish:
Set aside the constant threat of rebellion, Boehner insiders argue, and you have one of the most productive sessions of Congress in a long time. The speaker negotiated a permanent change to how doctors are reimbursed under Medicare, which they say will save more than $200 billion without raising taxes. He shepherded through the House the biggest free trade agreement in decades. And, Boehner’s friends point out, the Select Committee on Benghazi that he created exposed Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server — a controversy that’s dogged the Democratic front-runner for months and shows no signs of going away in 2016.
Critics are too quick to gloss over just how challenging an environment Boehner has navigated, the speaker’s allies maintain.
“I don’t think any other speaker could’ve gotten anything more out of this White House,” said House GOP chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).
“Look at what we’ve been able to do in the time we’ve been in the majority, with a Democratic president who has had a backstop of a U.S. Senate for the most part controlled by Harry Reid,” added Rep. Pat Tiberi, a close ally of Boehner, explaining the speaker’s message to the GOP rank and file. “Despite that challenge, we’ve cut discretionary [spending]. We had a significant mandatory spending program reformed in the ‘doc fix.’ That’s pretty significant.”
For many conservatives, though, “pretty significant” isn’t enough—and it’s possible their concerns have resonated, at least as far as GOP strategy is concerned. Both aides and lawmakers have expressed doubt over whether Boehner will run for another term as Speaker at all.
This will play out, probably in a fashion neither as dire nor as hopeful as the party or the base currently believe. If Boehner does field a challenger, I would encourage conservatives to vet that challenger as harshly and as thoroughly as they have criticized Boehner over the years. If these insiders are right, and a change of leadership isn’t just necessary, but coming, pulling the trigger on the first smooth talker to promise a “change in how Washington works” could prove more frustrating for the grassroots agenda than waiting out the leadership’s current slow-march strategy through the last year and a half of Obama’s time in the White House.DONATE
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