This year began with an election on whether John Boehner should continue as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A number of brave House conservatives, led by Jim Bridenstine, Tom Massie, and Steve King, waged a historic effort to deny Boehner the Speakership. What resulted was an earth-shattering groundswell of grassroots opposition to Boehner that shocked every Republican congressman. It was unsuccessful only because a handful of otherwise reliable House conservatives chose to support Boehner and give him another chance. And look at what their vote for Boehner has wrought in just two short months.
It resulted in a historic cave from a personal and iron-clad commitment to fight “tooth and nail” to block the President’s executive amnesty on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill. Late last year, everyone knew the plan to split off the rest of the funding for the federal government into the “cromnibus,” leaving DHS alone to be funded, had no chance of success. Yet John Boehner promised he would fight. He ended up fighting only in words. He failed to commit the financial resources of his party to move Senate Democrats off a still-untenable position of filibustering a bill to fund the DHS. The implications of this cave go far beyond the policy of amnesty. The Speaker is not just the partisan leader of House Republicans. He is the guardian of the House as an institution and its prerogatives, namely the power of the purse, and in bowing to this President, Boehner showed himself to be unfit for the office.
Once Boehner caved, he commissioned ads against twelve of the congressmen who voted against a short-term extension of DHS funding (many of whom voted for him in January). The content of the ads were straight out of the Obama playbook of scare tactics, positing that these congressmen were hurting the security of the country by standing up against the President’s lawlessness. If House conservatives somehow thought they were on the same team as the Speaker, they now have all the evidence in the world to the contrary. They are now the hunted.
Beyond amnesty and retaliation, incompetence and liberalism has ruled the House of Representatives this year. A common-sense ban on abortions after five months of pregnancy, previously having sailed through last Congress, was pulled the same week as thousands of abortion opponents traveled to DC to March for Life. A long-term reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was scheduled and whipped extensively by Boehner’s leadership team before being pulled at the last minute because of a conservative revolt. In order to preserve the NCLB testing mandates he personally authored with President Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy, Boehner made House Republicans choose between him and one the chief domestic failures of the Bush years. And this week, the House engaged in a bipartisan love fest surrounding the reauthorizing of Amtrak. Boehner passed an Amtrak “reform” bill that was supported by every Democrat and opposed by over one hundred Republicans.
Thankfully, House conservatives get a do-over. House Rules provide a privileged (meaning it takes precedence over other business) resolution to vacate the office of the Speaker. It can be offered by any Member. It would be a simple majority vote. If the entire House was voting, 28 Members would be needed to depose Boehner with all of the Democrats. Once vacated, a new Speaker election would ensue.
Again, as I argued in January, House conservatives do not need a formal candidate to take his place. Many will argue that they do, but they are wrong. It would be nice, but it is not crucial. The dynamic would be similar to that in 1998, when after Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston stepped down, House Republicans themselves recognized the need for a new person to unite around. Nobody was running. They gravitated to Denny Hastert and tapped him to be Speaker. The process of “vacating the chair” is to show that Boehner cannot continue, signaling that it is time to find a replacement. A viable replacement will likely not step forward until then.
Would Democrats vote to vacate Boehner from his position? Doesn’t he serve their agenda well already? Couldn’t Democrats combine with enough liberal Republicans to install a Republican worse than Boehner, as happened with Joe Straus in Texas? These are the critical questions that surfaced in January and would be used as excuses by many Republicans to skirt a difficult vote against the Speaker.
The Hill is even reporting that Democrats are now flirting with supporting Boehner on such a vote. This is just a bluff to prevent such a vote and preserve their de-facto majority. National politics is far more polarized than in state capitols with a much bigger spotlight. Even with a wink and nod in the short term by party leaders, it is simply not viable in liberal districts to have a vote for John Boehner on your record. Democrats will have to vote, and they will vote against Boehner. They will do so because they have to, and because they can have a partisan victory of seeing the chaos and demise of the current leader of the Republican party.
Nor will a liberal Republican be able to secure the votes of Democrats and a small minority of Republicans. Joe Straus was initially able to do that in Texas because of the limited spotlight on a part-time legislature and by promising chairmanships to Democrats. There are few districts occupied by Republicans currently where this sort of stunning political alliance of convenience would sell. Nor would any coalition last. Most House Republicans now at least profess rock-ribbed conservatism. They can get away with moderation “to govern responsibly.” They cannot be apart of formal alliance with Democrats. Any short-term political marriage of the Straus sort would be immediately vacated by the rest of House Republicans. If House conservatives move to vacate the office of the Speaker, they will get a better result than John Boehner.
We could have been rid of John Boehner in January. Unfortunately not enough House conservatives showed up to the fight. Since then John Boehner has confirmed every negative critique of his Speakership. He is governing with Democrats and wreaking of incompetence in the process.
This is the moment for the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) to lead. The HFC is led by Reps. Jim Jordan, Justin Amash, Raul Labrador, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney, John Fleming, Matt Salmon, Ron DeSantis, and Scott Garrett. Six of these influential conservatives (all except Amash, Meadows, and Garrett) voted to re-elect Boehner. If they decide over the next week of recess that Boehner should be deposed, he can be.