Alternate headline: “He’s not retiring.”
Thus dies the last hope of scaring Boehner into staying away from amnesty this year.
A group of his closest allies — including fellow Ohio Republicans like Pat Tiberi — are discussing tactics such as trying to change GOP Conference rules to punish members who do not support the party’s nominee during a floor vote. A lawmaker who bucks the Republicans’ choice for speaker could lose committee assignments — or worse. Boehner’s allies have already stripped some Republicans of their committee assignments for straying too far from the team.
In a sign of force, some of Boehner’s friends are considering releasing a letter with the names of several dozen GOP lawmakers pledging to vote for no one else besides the speaker — making the election of a more conservative rival logistically impossible…
In the upper chamber, Republicans have a fighting chance to take back the majority for the first time since 2006. People close to Boehner doubt he would leave if Congress is controlled by Republicans…
[Tim] Huelskamp, one of the driving forces to unseat Boehner, has already lost his seat on the Agriculture Committee. There are murmurs among Boehner’s friends about supporting a Republican against Huelskamp in 2016, though they haven’t backed an opponent for him during the current cycle.
Naturally, the pro-Boehner coalition is waiting until after the primaries are over to release their “nobody but John” cri de coeur. Everyone understand how the math works here, by the way? You need a clear majority of the House, i.e. 218 votes, to be elected Speaker at the opening session in January. If no one gets that on the first ballot, they hold a second, and then a third if necessary, and then a fourth, etc. The GOP should have somewhere in the ballpark of 240 seats, which means that a bloc of 23 Republicans — if they’re willing to stand firm and stick together — can effectively stop anyone from becoming Speaker by leaving him stuck at 217 votes. At last check, there were something like 40 or 50 tea partiers weighing whether to vote against Boehner. If they resolve to vote together on each ballot, Boehner will continue to fall short of 218 until, eventually, the House Republican majority will abandon him altogether and nominate an alternative candidate whom both the establishment and the conservatives can agree on. But that strategy cuts both ways. If tea partiers block Boehner on the first ballot, a group of 23 or more Boehner allies could band together and resolve to vote for no one except Boehner, no matter how many ballots follow. In that case, there’d be a stalemate, with neither Boehner nor his opponent able to get to 218. What happens then?
Given how embarrassing it’d be for the GOP to open the House next year with a hugely nasty floor fight, presumably either Boehner or his challenger would withdraw from consideration after two or three ballots. But there’d have to be concessions to the losing side. If, as expected, it’s Boehner’s challenger who relents, he could make a deal with the leadership to guarantee that no tea partier will lose his committee assignments as punishment for voting against Boehner. Or maybe the ask will be even higher: If House conservatives really are fed up with Cantor’s amnesty nonsense, maybe they’ll demand that he be replaced as majority leader with someone they trust more, like Jeb Hensarling or Jim Jordan. In fact, I think it’s Hensarling’s appearance at Heritage last week, in which he refused to rule out running for Speaker, that spurred this new pushback from Boehner’s allies. (This story at CNN from a few days ago about conservatives plotting to get rid of him probably lit some fires too.) But even if the prospects of a rebellion against Boehner are overblown, it’s still useful to him and the rest of the leadership to flex their muscles this way ahead of the big amnesty push this summer. The weaker Boehner seems, the more likely fencesitters are to defy him on immigration. The message of today’s leak is “I’ll still be in charge next year and I’ll remember who crossed me.” That might win him a few extra votes for DREAM or ENLIST or whatever Cantor and his pal Luis Gutierrez have cooking these days. The bit above about primarying Huelskamp in 2016 if he keeps causing trouble for the leadership is a warning shot suggesting consequences to come if/when the business lobby finally goes all-in against the tea party.
Exit question: Do the conservative Boehner-haters in the House have the numbers and the nerve to hold out and block him from the Speakership, no matter how many ballots it takes? I’m trying to decide between “no” and “not a prayer.”