Could A GOP Plot To Oust Speaker Boehner Succeed?

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John Boehner is “all in” to be Speaker of the House again next year. But as usual, he has his share of dissidents who want to oust him — disenchantment remains strong with some of the Republican conference.

But for all the grumbling, they have a tough battle on their hands if they want a new Speaker in January.

A new article in The Hill points to stirrings a coup attempt by some members against the Ohio Republican, who has served in the House’s top job since 2011. The piece centers around a less-than-organized push by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who told the paper he’s meeting with members to chart out “a new direction” for the House.

According to numerous conservative House lawmakers, as well as aides who declined to be named, Boehner’s gavel is safe. Here are four reasons why.

Boehner’s dissidents are less energized

In January 2013, a dozen disgruntled House conservatives mounted a failed coup d’état against Boehner. The spectacle was embarrassing for both camps, revealing Boehner’s vulnerabilities and conservative grumblers’ disorganization. Notably, one of the leaders of that effort, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), has declined to call for the Speaker’s ouster in the next Congress. Another frequent Boehner critic who refused to vote for him in 2013, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), has said the Ohion is probably safe in his job.

“I don’t see anybody right now going forward and mounting a challenge to the Speaker,” Labrador said last week at a panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t see much of a challenge mounting, and I suspect that there won’t be a challenge.”

There’s no clear successor

In order for the GOP plot to succeed, Republicans need to prevent Boehner from getting 218 votes on the House floor, force a second ballot, and offer up an alternative whom the conference can coalesce around.

The problem is nobody has expressed interest in being that candidate, or made the sorts of moves that leadership hopefuls typically make. Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, whom Boehner allies see as the most credible alternative if there was one, has not shown signs of working against him, House GOP sources say. What’s more, seeking to leapfrog Boehner would be a huge risk for Hensarling, who enjoys a plum position as chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

“I play a long game,” Hensarling told National Journal in an interview this week.


House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. announces an amendment to extend the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, Thursday, March 27, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Cantor’s exit consolidated power within GOP leadership

The stunning defeat in June for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was widely seen as eying the Speaker’s gavel one day, brought about a more conservative leadership team, with the addition of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as whip. This was welcome news to the rabble-rousers, and helped placate some southern Republicans agitated that every member of the Cantor-era leadership team hailed from a state that voted for President Obama twice.

“Look at the last couple months since the new leadership team has come on board. I, for one, will tell you I’m very pleased with the tenor of the conference, the direction of the conference, the practices of the conference,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), one of the most conservative members in the House, said at the Heritage event. “I think that is a sea change.”

Mulvaney cited an one example the August vote to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions deferring some deportations — the bill was written with input from Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN). “I think [leaders are] actually doing what we’ve begged them to do since [we] got here,” Mulvaney said.

Boehner allies are prepared to fight back

House GOP allies of Boehner have anonymously floated the possibility of a conference rule change to punish members who seek to embarrass Boehner by voting against him in the main Speaker election if and when he’s chosen by Republicans in their closed-door meeting. The punishment, according to National Journal, would be to strip those members of their committee assignments, a powerful tool at Boehner’s disposal.

It’s unclear how seriously Boehner is taking this proposition, and Labrador called it a “terrible idea,” but the discussion of it serves to make dissenters think twice about taking part in a coup that could fail.

Boehner’s office declined to address the reported plot to oust him.

“The Speaker appreciates the strong support he has from members across our conference,” said his spokesman, Michael Steel, “and he’s looking forward to what we can accomplish for the American people in the years ahead.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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