Conservatives planning to buck the status quo and oppose the reelection of John Boehner as House speaker have received a warning shot. Sources on Capitol Hill say dissenters could be stripped of their committee assignments should they fail to support the two-term speaker.
There haven’t been any public challenges to Boehner, though reports have surfaced that Republicans who vote against him on the floor would be punished.
The process will play out after the Nov. 4 midterm elections when the Republican conference holds a closed-door vote for majority leader, majority whip and conference chair. Those roles are currently held by Kevin McCarthy of California, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, respectively.
Republicans will also select a nominee for House speaker.
When the 114th Congress convenes in January, all 435 House members will gather to vote publicly for speaker.
House Republicans have issued a warning shot to conservatives, who could face consequences for voting against John Boehner.
To dissuade conservatives from opposing Boehner, congressional Republicans are reportedly discussing a rules change. As first reported by National Journal, Republicans are threatening to “punish” lawmakers who buck the conference’s nominee before the whole chamber.
The Republican conference votes on the rules every two years, and any proposed changes would have to be approved by a majority of the caucus.
One former conservative House aide with knowledge of the dealings cited two reasons for lawmakers to issue such a warning to potential dissenters.
First, the former aide told The Daily Signal, threatening conservatives who may not support Boehner could reduce the chances they mount a campaign against him when it comes time to vote for speaker on the House floor.
Second, House Republicans may be using this as an opportunity to reduce the influence of members not viewed as siding with leadership.
One GOP insider told National Journal there could be between 30 and 40 Republican lawmakers who would vote against Boehner.
In an interview with USA Today, Boehner rejected any suggestion Republicans voting against him in January would face repercussions, and confirmed this in a statement to The Daily Signal.
“I don’t support any such effort,” Boehner said. “It’s not a good idea, and isn’t necessary.”
Requests for comment from McCarthy and Scalise went unanswered.
In 2010, a wave of tea party Republicans were elected to the House, which led to what many Republicans said was a rift between conservatives and the establishment.
Conservative lawmakers such as Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas pushed back against leadership—including Boehner—and maintained strict conservative voting records, sometimes stymying and other times opposing leadership.
Their actions had consequences.
In late 2012, Amash, Huelskamp and Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona were all removed from key committees for what many said was retribution for their votes. At an event at The Heritage Foundation in December 2012, Amash and Huelskamp said they were blindsided by the news.
“I had to read it in the newspapers,” Amash said at the time.
Their removals stood in contrast to a deal leadership made with incoming freshman in 2010, when the tea party wave was elected to the 112th Congress. Then, Huelskamp said members were encouraged to “vote their conscience and their district” as long as they made leadership aware of their votes before casting them.
But Huelskamp said leadership reneged on that deal and instead ranked members based on their votes. Those who “didn’t get a high enough score,” he said in 2012, were “punished.”
Huelskamp himself was removed from the Budget and Agriculture committees, despite his extensive knowledge of the agriculture industry as a former farmer. Similarly, Schweikert was stripped of his spot on the Financial Services Committee despite his business background.
House Republicans are floating a rules change that could strip conservatives opposing Boehner of their committee assignments.
Electing the Speaker
Boehner was up for re-election as speaker at the start of the 113th Congress, but he was met with pushback from conservatives in the conference.
When the entire chamber gathered to vote, several lawmakers bucked the status quo and failed to back the Ohio Republican.
Six Republicans voted for other GOP members, and others either abstained or simply said “present.” Reps. Paul Broun of Georgia and Louie Gohmert of Texas cast votes for outgoing Republican Allen West of Florida. North Carolina’s Walter Jones supported former Comptroller General David Walker, who served from 1998 to 2008.
The speaker of the House does not have to be a sitting member of Congress.
In the 2014 elections, Republicans are working to pick up 11 seats, bringing the total number of GOP members to 245—the largest Republican majority since Harry Truman’s presidency. The campaign to achieve such a goal has been dubbed the “Drive to 245.”
Political strategists such as Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report say it’s possible.
Support for Boehner as speaker, though, is not inevitable. Several GOP congressional hopefuls have refrained from announcing support for the top Republican while campaigning.
Dave Brat, the Virginia Republican who ousted former then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the state’s June Republican primary, refused to endorse Boehner in interviews with both The Washington Post and The Washington Times. Instead, he vowed to continue running on principles, not personalities.
Boehner has hit the campaign trail with GOP candidates, including state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, who is running against U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster, the incumbent Democrat in New Hampshire’s 2nd District. The speaker was on hand to help Garcia raise money.
Within his own conference, some conservative firebrands have committed to supporting Boehner should he remain the only viable candidate for speaker.
“I don’t see much of a challenge mounting, and I suspect that there won’t be a challenge,” Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho said during Conversations with Conservatives last month. “However, if we don’t take the Senate, I think there might be rumblings as to maybe we need a new direction as a Republican Party.”
Labrador mounted a campaign for majority leader following Cantor’s loss, but McCarthy defeated him in June.