The PJ Tatler

Is Boehner Really in Trouble?

It has not been a good 48 hours for Speaker of the House John Boehner. He was able to bring only about a third of his caucus along with him in voting for the Senate fiscal cliff deal. He refused to bring the Hurricane Sandy aid bill to the floor for a vote, eliciting howls of outrage from members of both parties.


And if you believe some people, an incipient revolt is brewing against him:

American Majority Action spokesman Ron Meyer told Breitbart News late Tuesday that enough House Republicans have banded together in an effort to unseat House Speaker John Boehner from his position–they just need a leader to take up the mantle.

“At least 20 House Republican members have gotten together, discussed this and want to unseat Speaker Boehner–and are willing to do what it takes to do it,” Meyer said. “That’s more than enough to get the job done, but the one problem these guys face is they need a leader to coalesce behind.”

Meyer said the conservatives have considered House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to take the helm after Boehner is knocked out. His opposition from the right to the Senate fiscal cliff deal that Vice President Joe Biden cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a sign Cantor may try for the job.

If there are 20 Republican congressmen ready and willing to vote against the speaker, Boehner may indeed, be in trouble. It takes an absolute majority of House votes to be elected speaker. In the 113th Congress, there will be 433 members voting (2 seats are currently vacant), meaning that Boehner needs 217 votes. With 233 Republicans voting, a loss of 20 will deny Boehner a first ballot win.

In practical terms, such a scenario will fling the door wide open to a challenger. The obvious choice is Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In fact, he may be the only realistic alternative, given his stature and the lack of a clear conservative favorite to challenge the speaker.


And Cantor voted against the fiscal cliff deal. He was very careful in not challenging Boehner in doing so, but the act itself might be seen as the opening salvo in his campaign:

In closed-door meetings of the House Republican conference, he expressed his opposition to the Senate bill before Boehner had taken a stand. He expressed the sense of most Republicans that it raised taxes without getting any meaningful spending cuts in return, that it added to the deficit, and that it created the precedent that any cuts must be paired with tax hikes.

President Obama’s team released a statement that morning suggesting they agreed with that last point, practically singing, “Ding-dong, Grover Norquist’s dead.”

Cantor had tried to establish himself as the right flank of the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011, famously irritating the president. But many conservatives regarded this as ambition talking more than principle. When the majority leader said out loud what most Republicans were thinking about the fiscal cliff bill, however, there was admiration.

As reports of the meeting leaked out, observers began to wonder if a Cantor coup against Boehner was brewing.

Cantor is in an extremely delicate and dangerous position, akin to a younger sibling challenging the eldest for the crown; you better make damn sure you’re successful or you’re in a world of hurt. Cantor is certainly aware of any potential revolt, but whether it’s just bluster from unhappy members or something more tangible is a question he is probably wrestling with tonight.


Boehner has not been idle in trying to forestall a challenge. Despite showing obvious weakness in the cliff deal vote, he is now seeking to shore up his battered right flank by promising not to engage in one on one negotiations with Obama during the next Congress:

During both 2011 and 2012, the Speaker spent weeks shuttling between the Capitol and the White House for meetings with the president in the hopes of striking a grand bargain on the deficit.

Those efforts ended in failure, leaving Boehner feeling burned by Obama and, at times, isolated within his conference.

In closed-door meetings since leaving the “fiscal cliff” talks two weeks ago, lawmakers and aides say the Speaker has indicated he is abandoning that approach for good and will return fully to the normal legislative process in 2013 — seeking to pass bills through the House that can then be adopted, amended or reconciled by the Senate.

“He is recommitting himself and the House to what we’ve done, which is working through regular order and letting the House work its will,” an aide to the Speaker told The Hill.

While this should please the “No Retreat, No Surrender” faction of the GOP caucus, the establishment Republicans might take a dimmer view of Boehner catering to tea party concerns. But Boehner has the establishment GOP in his pocket where he needs at least a few tea partiers to cease and desist in their efforts to unseat him.


And giving his opponents within the party an excuse not to challenge him may be all that he needs to keep his speakership. Rocking the party boat by challenging the party leader carries with it risks that most congressmen don’t want to take. For that reason, it is unlikely that Boehner is in any real trouble as far as winning re-election as speaker of the House.

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