"I'm for the most conservative outcome that we can get,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Politico’s Manu Raju last summer. House speaker John Boehner would agree with that goal. But critics to their right disagree. They are for the most conservative outcome they cannot get.
This is the heart of the division between Republicans in the House and Senate. It was behind the effort to bring down Boehner. And though less than 10 percent of House Republicans voted to oust him as speaker, that small band is likely to be a recurring thorn in his side, just as Senator Ted Cruz has been in McConnell’s.
Their grievance, for now anyway, is the 10-month budget negotiated by Boehner and Harry Reid, the outgoing Senate majority leader. It passed in the lame duck session of Congress a month after the Republican landslide in November’s midterm elections. That Democrats still controlled the Senate (plus the White House) gave them leverage. The best option for Republicans was a compromise. The dissidents, however, claim Boehner merely surrendered. And they’ve been very noisy on the subject.
“I cannot stand beside the same leadership that . . . has refused to take swift action against the president and his administration’s unconstitutional actions,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “Not enough is done to stop him,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said. “Speaker Boehner went too far when he teamed with Obama to advance this legislation,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) complained. “With this vote, Republicans gave away the best tool available to rein in our liberal activist president: the power of the purse.”
Not quite. McConnell intends to use 12 separate spending bills to make numerous changes affecting Obama’s policies and programs. For instance, he has vowed to propose amendments to eliminate various parts of Obamacare.
That won’t be enough to assuage dissidents with high-toned reasons for opposing Boehner. Rep. David Brat (R-Va.), who defeated then-majority leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary, declared on Breitbart: “Washington is broken in part because our party’s leadership has strayed from its own principles of free-market, limited government, constitutional conserv-atism.” That wasn’t all. He cosponsored an amendment to defund Obama’s executive amnesty, only to have Boehner block it. The amendment’s chance of passage: zero.
On other issues too, the dissidents ignored the fact that what they sought was unattainable, since Republicans lacked the votes. They had no choice but to settle for a bipartisan agreement or force a government shutdown.
Cruz and his allies favored a shutdown in 2013 in hopes it would stir national support for defunding Obamacare. It didn’t come close. On the contrary, it caused the favorability of the Republican party to drop from 38 to 28 percent, while Democratic popularity held steady. It took a year for Republicans to recover.
So what was the point of voting against Boehner, as 24 House Republicans did? They didn’t have a popular candidate to replace Boehner, and the campaigns run by backbenchers Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) were amateurish. Gohmert got 3 votes, Yoho 2. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) received 12 votes, but he’s hardly a full-blown conservative.
Several Republicans said they had little choice. “A large number of my constituents have called on me to demand new leadership in the House,” Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said. “I hear you and I agree.” Before the vote, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) met with Boehner and explained he had promised as a candidate to vote against him. “To a certain extent, I regret having said that,” he told the Birmingham News. “But I said it, and I can’t walk it back. You give your word, you’ve got to keep your word.”
In the House, the anti-Boehner bloc wanted visibility. They could have organized against Boehner when House Republicans met privately and chose him as their candidate for speaker. They didn’t. They waited until last week’s vote on the House floor and succeeded in attracting enormous media attention.
No more than a dozen of the dissidents, once dubbed “chuckleheads” by former representative Steve LaTour-ette (R-Ohio), are firmly opposed. But their political strength goes far beyond their numbers.