After Tempers Flare, GOP Tries to Smooth Over Differences

House GOP leaders spent Wednesday afternoon trying to smooth over deep divisions in their party that erupted into public view after a heated conference meeting in which Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (OH) was dressed down for an aide’s attacks on Speaker John Boehner’s (OH) debt-limit proposal.

During the morning meeting, Jordan professed not to know about his top staffer’s e-mails to outside conservative groups complaining about Boehner’s proposal and urging the groups to launch coordinated assaults on the plan and its lack of a balanced budget component.Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), read the text of the e-mail he said that Paul Teller, the RSC’s top staffer, sent to outside activists and upbraided Teller for using information in a closed-door GOP conference meeting against Boehner and GOP leaders. One GOP staffer, however, told TPM the email referenced above was not sent by Paul Teller, despite reports to the contrary.

RSC spokesman Brian Straessle apologized in a statement, saying: “This action was clearly inappropriate and was not authorized by the Chairman or any other members of the staff. This has never been — and never will be — the way we do business at the RSC.”

Discussions are now underway about “staff changes” at the RSC, a powerful group of fiscal conservatives within the conference, but Jordan afterward received strong support from likeminded members.

“I am fully supportive of Jim,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), a former RSC chairman told TPM.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) would say only that he believes the “RSC will do the responsible thing.”

Tensions are running high in the GOP conference with just six days to find a way to raise the nation’s borrowing limit or face default. Fiscal conservative Republican members are upset that the Boehner proposal didn’t include the major provisions of the measure the House passed last week called Cut, Cap, Balance.

“There are some differences — it’s heartfelt and it’s felt to the core,” Walden acknowledged, saying he believed the conference was beginning to come around. “But this is 77 percent of the Ryan Budget.”

During the intense conference meeting Boehner also told members to “get their asses” behind the deal, according to a GOP leadership staffer who attended.

“I have fought for you and I didn’t do that and expect to turn around and not see an army behind me so get your asses behind me,” Boehner told the conference.

A GOP aide said the comment was made in a rallying fashion, and elicited strong support during the meeting.

“Today we’re seeing clear momentum behind the Boehner plan,” the staffer said.

Afterward, Cantor told the members it was disappointing to see Republicans fighting with each other on TV when he expected to see them fighting with Democrats. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke out in favor of Boehner’s plan. Cantor will attend a meeting with House GOP freshmen Wednesday afternoon.

While there are always divisions within the conference, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said he found this episode with the RSC particularly unusual.

“This was the RSC turning on the RSC, from what I understand,” King said. “This is a vote that John Boehner needs. This is a time that you support your leader unless you have some moral objections.”

If Republicans don’t pass the Boehner plan, King said, then the party is ceding control to Senate Democrats and the White House.

“Right now we have almost a parliamentary system with the President off to the side,” King said. “If we don’t act now — we’re just giving them the full control over the process.”

Even so, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) said right now he cannot vote in favor of Boehner’s plan when it comes as expected to the House floor Thursday.

“I agree with Boehner — and he has a tough, tough job,” Gingrey said. “But I’m going to stand strong even under strong pressure. It’s a commitment I made to my district.”

Follow this reporter on Twitter: @susancrabtree

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