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. Then 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. NCLB got passed, The Export-Import Bank has been blocked, but only temporarily, leadership punted to the courts to stop amnesty — the list goes on and on.
Through it all, Boehner has been punishing conservatives who have stood up for conservative values. Members have been stripped of committee chairmanships and other power. Outside groups have run ads to attack and harass members who dared to stand up to Boehner.
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. Congressman Mark Meadows has now done that.
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.
There is something more at stake now too. Privately, conservative and moderate members of Congress are growing alarmed at the increasing strength of Donald Trump in the polling. Several of the conservatives I have spoken with do not view Trump with anything other than suspicion. His record, until very recently, was a supporter of the Democratic Party, bigger government, amnesty, and Obamacare. As one leader I spoke with told me, “The Bible says not to put new Christians in leadership positions. I don’t think the conservative movement should put new conservatives in leadership positions either. Let them be sure what they believe first.”
Nonetheless, the members I have spoken with suddenly see Trump as useful. Much of Trump’s support comes from voter anger at repeated Republican betrayals in Washington. The grievances of Trump voters participating in the Republican primary process echo the grievances of most conservatives, but are louder. As Jeb Bush falters in the polling, ousting Boehner is another way to help mitigate the rise of Trump’s campaign. While McConnell cannot be touched because of a lack of “motion to vacate the chair” in the Senate, tossing Boehner, some speculate, would be a strong signal that Republicans are getting their act together to fight as conservatives.
Said one mid-western Congressman to me, “Donald Trump is giving us another avenue to sell members on tossing Boehner. Suddenly, knowing what might come otherwise, the Speaker is expendable.”
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. And now they have Donald Trump to help them make their case.