Frustration with the Ohio Republican is mounting after dozens of hardliners voted Friday against his three-week funding package for the Department of Homeland Security. Hours of frantic leadership meeting ensued. After some backroom maneuvering with Democrats, Boehner was able to push through a one-week bill to keep DHS open.
The stinging rebuke of Boehner on the House floor infuriated his supporters, who accused opponents of handing Democrats a huge PR victory.
Yet is also left even Boehner backers wondering how viable he remains. They admit these repeated confrontations, in which Boehner can’t muster 218 Republican votes for his proposals and has to turn to Democrats for help, leave him looking weak and ineffective — and thus vulnerable to a conservative challenge.
One conservative member, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly, said the mood of his colleagues will depend on how Boehner handles himself over the next week. If he tries to put a “clean” DHS funding bill on the floor for a vote, or doesn’t make overtures to conservatives, anger could boil over, the Republican said.
Unhappiness with Boehner has been growing since the end of last year. He decided then to move forward with the so-called “cromnibus” that funded the government through September, except for DHS, which received money only through Friday. The idea at the time was to avoid another damaging government shutdown — and then use homeland security financing as leverage to force President Barack Obama to back away from his actions to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.
Instead, conservatives believe Boehner left them with less leverage to scuttle the president’s immigration policies.
Boehner was asked at a Thursday news conference whether his speakership is on the line. “No! Heaven’s sake, no,” he said. “Not at all.”
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the question is “who is going to run the House. Is it going to be the Democratic minority? Is it going to be a very focused minority within the House Republican Conference? Maybe this is one of those points in time where we have to sit down and figure out which way we want to go. But you can’t have the tail on both ends wagging the dog in the middle.”
To remove Boehner from the speaker’s chair, a lawmaker would introduce a “motion to vacate,” which an overwhelming majority of GOP lawmakers would have to back. Republicans say that would never happen in the conference right now.
“I’ve had my differences with the speaker at times both on tactics and policy,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. “But we elect each speaker for two years. There is no discussion or talk among conservatives to get him out.”
Conservative South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy was also measured in his criticism of Boehner.
“Being in leadership is a tough job, which is why so few people raise their hands and volunteer to do it. It’s easy where I sit just to kind of second guess,” said Gowdy, who voted against the one-week funding bill after earlier supporting the three-week plan. “I believe in self-reflection, and then after that self-reflection, if you have something to say, you say it to them personally.”
But impatience is rising among conservatives.
“I think we are frustrated that they continue to reach out to the Democrats of the Senate instead of working with conservatives,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney.
Hardliners may have missed their best chance to remove Boehner: the vote for speaker on Jan. 6. Twenty-five Republicans voted against Boehner that day, an extraordinary show of opposition to a sitting speaker, especially one who a few months earlier had led his party to their biggest majority in decades.
In fact, Boehner was fortunate that several New York Democrats were missing that day for the funeral of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo. That allowed him to win reelection as speaker with only 216 votes.
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