Things were so bad for Speaker John Boehner Thursday night, support for his Plan B tax bill so diminished, the limits of his power with his own party laid bare, that he stood in front of the House Republican Conference and recited the Serenity Prayer.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Boehner nearly cried.
Several senior GOP aides said that many of the Republicans were wary of voting for Plan B because they worried it would lead to a primary challenge…
Shortly after 7 p.m., GOP leaders abruptly adjourned the chamber and called an emergency meeting in the same Capitol basement room that they had huddled in Tuesday morning. It lasted less than 10 minutes, as leaders announced they did not have the votes and that the House would not return until after Christmas.
Kelly, who finally came around to supporting the plan, was incredulous, according to Republicans in the room. As others headed for the door, Kelly raced to the front of the room and grabbed the microphone.
“Really,” he screamed, according to Republicans. “We can’t support our speaker?”
The vote on Plan B was perhaps the most consequential test of Boehner’s leadership since he took control of the House early last year. Persuading a majority of Republicans to cast a politically treacherous vote to allow higher taxes could have enhanced his leverage with Obama in future talks to rein in the national debt, Republicans said. But failure could imperil his hold on power, said Craig Shirley, a Republican consultant who wrote a biography of former president Ronald Reagan.
“If this was a parliamentary system, tonight’s dissent on Plan B would be seen as a vote of no confidence in Boehner,” Shirley said. “The national GOP is now simply a collection of warring tribal factions.”
Speaker John Boehner’s failure to move his “Plan B” tax bill through the House was “an embarrassment,” Obama chief political strategist David Axelrod said Friday.
“They went from ‘Plan B’ to ‘Plan see you later,’ ” Axelrod quipped during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
2) If part of what President Obama was after was Republican humiliation and disarray, it’s going better than even he could have hoped.
3) It’s possible to envision a scenario where, in theory, going over the cliff enhances GOP leverage. But the emphasis is on in theory. As soon as we go over the cliff, Senate Republicans will almost certainly start peeling off and House Republicans will be even more isolated. Then, they will likely see defections in their own ranks, too, and buckle in a pell-mell retreat.
4) Boehner is in an intolerable position. Either he has the confidence of his conference or he doesn’t. It was a risk to announce Plan B before he knew he had the votes. But if his members don’t have his back in such a high-stakes situation, well then, something eventually has to give.
Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, said Boehner told him that he would call Obama to see about the way forward. But it is clear that his negotiating leverage is tarnished and Republicans may inevitably have to swallow a fiscal cliff deal that heavily skews toward the president’s demands.
“It weakens the entire Republican Party, the Republican majority. It’s the continuing dumbing-down of the Republican Party and we are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists that can’t even get a majority of our own people to support policies that we’re putting forward,” LaTourette said.
Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), all stripped of prized committee assignments earlier this month because of perceived sins against the party, did a three-amigos end zone dance as GOP leaders struggled and failed to get the votes for a tax-cut bill designed to empower Speaker John Boehner in negotiating the so-called fiscal cliff…
The three freshmen didn’t cost Boehner his “Plan B” bill. But his sanctions didn’t work, and that could serve as a yellow light to other hell-no conservatives that they can flout leadership and not worry too much about the consequences…
A conservative who is on the outs with Republican leaders contended that the failure of the Plan B bill represented “the beginning of the end” for the House GOP leadership team.
“Speaker Boehner said today’s bill would pass. His credibility as a leader has evaporated,” declared Ron Meyer a spokesman for American Majority Action, a Virginia-based group, which has trained thousands of conservative activists and says it predates the tea party movement…
“Conservatives won a huge battle tonight. Speaker Boehner can’t get away with his reckless political ploys anymore at the expense of our principles,” said Meyer. “His speakership is on the ropes, and the harder he pushes, the less likely he’ll be speaker come January.”
That might sound far-fetched. But perhaps not—given the trouble he’s having securing votes for this bill. In fact, if all House members show up to vote that day, and actually cast ballots for someone, just 17 members of his own Republican conference can block Boehner’s reelection.
“This is a point where his speakership’s on the line,” the member said regarding Boehner. “It’s a big vote and we want to be able to deliver for our speaker.”
At the same time, the member said the names of those who vote against the measure are being noted, an ominous sign after leaders recently pulled four GOP members from their plum committee assignments, apparently in retribution for not hewing the party line.
“You don’t think that list is going to be around for a long time and you need something from the speaker?” the member said. “In this business, if you can’t be here when your friend is in a fight like this, he’s not your friend.”
It now appears about 25 percent of Americans will hold Obama and the Democrats responsible, and only about 65 percent of will blame Republicans (with good odds that the other 10 percent will follow suit).
This is the reality with which Boehner must deal. The Republican Party’s reputation isn’t good; the reputation of Congress is even worse. Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating is up to 56 percent in Gallup, his highest level since 2009…
The speaker’s doing what little he can with what little he has. Those conservatives who attack him for a sincere effort to manage an unavoidable defeat, or who are trying to raise money by using Boehner as a foil, are making an implicit case for their own marginalization.
What happens now is anyone’s guess. Boehner said last night, and will reportedly say again at a 10:00 am press conference this morning, that it is up to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to pass their own fiscal cliff solution. The Boehner-Obama negotiations appear to be over. There will be no grand bargain.
The more likely scenarios are that we either go over the fiscal cliff, or Boehner agrees to vote on a Senate bill which extends the current tax rates for everyone making under $250,000. Either way, by choosing to abandon their leader in the middle of high stakes negotiations, House conservatives have assured that whatever final deal does get done, whether its before or after January 1st, it will have to be passed with a majority of Democratic votes. By refusing to compromise at all, House conservatives have completely marginalized themselves, making them effectively irrelevant, not just for the fiscal cliff negotiations, but for at least the next two years as well.
Let’s say, then, that Boehner does go ahead and cut a deal with Obama, which in all likelyhood would be worse than the “Plan B” option that failed tonight. Would there be a major revolt among House Republicans that would topple him as speaker? Perhaps. But maybe not. People have been too willing to assume that the defeat of “Plan B” is a rejection of Boehner as a leader. But these are two separate things. Speaking to members today, the sense I got was that rank and file Republicans understand the difficult position Boehner has been put in, with the tax cuts expiring automatically, Obama as president and Democrats in control of the Senate. So, many conservatives may have felt they needed to oppose “Plan B” so they didn’t get their hands dirty voting for what they saw as a tax increase (or perhaps they just feared how it would play in a potential primary challenge). But, these same members could still give a pass to Boehner, recognizing that he’s in a tough spot. Just as long as they get to keep their own hands clean and campaign as true conservatives who stood up to Obama.
The Obama White House also seems to have two options: Do they try and save Boehner, or do they try to break the Republican Party. We saw mixed reactions coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The statement from Press Secretary Jay Carney was conciliatory. “The President will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy.” But on the other hand, the reaction on Twitter was a bit of gloating. If the White House wants a big deal — and we think they do — then saving Boehner could seem to be the safer approach. That said, there will always be the question whether the White House feels Boehner could deliver ANY votes for the. But also don’t lose sight of Mitch McConnell. Even though he has strained relations with the White House, could he be a stronger partner on the fiscal cliff and immigration reform than Boehner? That’s something to chew on. The White House also has to restrain parts of its base — there is blood in the water, and there are parts of the base who want to go for the kill. The president wakes up today with more leverage than he’s ever had, but he has to be careful how he uses that leverage…
Here’s a final point we want to make about last night, and it’s a point our colleague John Harwood made on Twitter: For a defeated party, things usually get worse before they get better. In fact, it’s more than likely that last night won’t be rock bottom for the GOP after its losses in November. As Harwood noted, “Political parties with losing hands don’t change until they’ve absorbed lots of punishment. See Dems, 1968-88. GOP not done yet.”
He had one objective. He came off a winning election, but he still had a recalcitrant House. He wants four years where he can have his own agenda that he can enact. He would be stopped by the House the same way the House stopped it in the last two years. What to do? To destroy the Republicans, to fracture them and to create a civil war in the House, which he has done. And how do you do it? By insisting, as he did, this is extremely clever, tactically on his part. Insisting that the one thing that they had to agree to was an increase on tax rates.
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