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With Speakership on Line, Should Boehner Rest Easy?

The key isn't disgruntled Republicans so much as a lack of speakers-in-waiting in the wings.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

January 2, 2013 - 1:52 pm

Don’t be surprised if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is spotted strolling the corridors of the nation’s Capitol whistling the old Rolling Stones song “Time Is On My Side.’’

Despite the failure of his fiscal cliff proposal, known as Plan B, to generate sufficient Republican votes to win passage and his inability to stop the House and Senate from raising income tax rates on those earning more than $450,000 per year, it appears the Ohio Republican will likely retain the speaker’s position in Thursday’s lower chamber vote.

“I don’t think anyone will challenge the speaker tomorrow,’’ said one Hill GOP staffer close to the situation.

With only a few hours to go before the House leadership election, no one has stepped forward to issue a challenge despite audible grumbling from the party’s conservative wing. And while Boehner has his detractors in the House, most of the criticism is coming from outside groups like American Majority, a conservative organization that helps train like-minded potential candidates.

“The world might not have ended today but Speaker Boehner’s power is at an end,’’ said Ron Meyer, a spokesman for the group. “It’s time to make room for fresh leadership and a new approach to governing.’’

But even Boehner’s most severe critics acknowledge that his return to the speaker’s chair is almost assured, given that so little time exists for anyone to mount a serious challenge. Two often-cited potential competitors, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee and last year’s party vice presidential candidate, are not waging visible campaigns.

Doug Heye, Cantor’s spokesman, took to Twitter on Tuesday to announce, “Majority Leader Cantor stands with @SpeakerBoehner. Speculation otherwise is silly, non-productive and untrue.’’

Boehner over the past several days has expressed optimism over retaining his position.

“No, I’m not,’’ when asked at a recent press conference if he is concerned about his leadership status. “Listen, you have all heard me say this, and I have told my colleagues this — if you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen.’’

The House Republican caucus in November tabbed Boehner as its candidate for a second two-year term in the speaker’s office. A vote of the full House, including Democrats, comes Thursday with the GOP majority guaranteed to prevail.

Regardless, it’s unlikely the derision that follows Boehner will subside anytime soon. Despite a solidly right-of-center voting record during his 22 years in Congress he is persistently criticized for insufficient dedication to conservative orthodoxy, criticism that grew louder with his vote in favor of the Senate’s fiscal cliff deal last night.

The rumblings became audible in early December when the Republican Steering Committee, under Boehner’s control, ousted Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) from the House Financial Services Committee and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) from the House Budget Committee. Sources maintain the quartet expressed insufficient fealty to the speaker.

Boehner was criticized for his fiscal cliff negotiations with the White House, particularly when he agreed to an income tax rate increase for the wealthy. Unable to strike a deal with President Obama, he offered up his own solution, Plan B, in an effort to avoid a hike for most taxpayers. In a stinging rebuke, the GOP caucus refused to follow his lead and the proposal crashed without coming to a vote.

And on Tuesday he voted in support of the fiscal cliff plan wrangled out between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). That package, opposed by Cantor, raised the tax rate on households earning $450,000 and more a year. Most House Republicans split with the speaker and voted against it.

After adjourning late Tuesday without a vote on the Senate’s Hurricane Sandy relief package, New York Republican Peter King angrily threatened to not vote for Boehner.

“He walked off the floor. He refused to tell us why, refused to give us any indication of warning whatsoever. Eric Cantor, he met with us through the week. He’s the one who devised the strategy as to how we would bring it to the floor to make it acceptable,” King said on CNN.

“As far as I’m concerned my world turned upside down last night, so I am right now holding every vote in abeyance,” he said when asked about what his vote for speaker would be.

Boehner subsequently had a change of heart. “Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations,” the speaker and Cantor said in an afternoon joint statement. “The House will vote Friday to direct needed resources to the National Flood Insurance Program. And on January 15th, the first full legislative day of the 113th Congress, the House will consider the remaining supplemental request for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.”

“Met with Speaker Boehner & he pledges to bring $60B Sandy aid bill to the floor by January 15. Very positive result,” a placated King tweeted.

The GOP caucus is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. today.

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.
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