Remember how the last, embarrassingly close vote for Speaker meant that John Boehner’s time was through at the top of the House — even if Republicans kept their majority? Good times, good times. The fortunes of Boehner have turned positive enough that the New York Times reports on them as merely an aside on how the GOP won’t conduct a government shutdown in the coming budget fight. One has to read down to the eighth paragraph to learn this:
He is expected to be re-elected easily when the 114th Congress convenes on Jan. 6, unlike two years ago when a divided Republican conference embarrassed him with an uncomfortably close vote. This time his deputies are carefully counting their support, leaving nothing to chance.
His majority — likely to be 247 seats after a few undecided races are settled — will be the largest any Republican speaker has had since 1929, so large that it is approaching the size that Democrats had in the 1960s when they solidified control of the House that endured for decades.
But what he is able to do with that power will determine whether he is remembered as something more than the House leader during a stretch of frustrating gridlock and deep partisanship.
“He’s never wanted to just be speaker,” said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a close ally. “He’s wanted to be a historically significant speaker.”
In fact, far from the predictions of his decline and fall two years ago, the Times now predicts that Boehner will retain his gavel not just in 2015 but also in 2017, too. “He has no obvious challengers from within his inner circle,” write Carl Hulse and Jeremy Peters. It takes another seven paragraphs to mention why — the defeat of Eric Cantor in a primary eliminated one strategic option for a palace coup. The resulting shake-up also allowed Boehner to work with conservatives to bridge strategic differences and reinforce his authority within the caucus.
Plus, of course, Republicans won the midterm elections. In 2012, the GOP actually gave back a few seats, although not enough to give up the majority, in an election that many thought could have been won with a more conservative candidate at the top of the ticket. This time, the GOP thumped the Democrats much more than predicted, and the result is the biggest majority Republicans have had since Herbert Hoover. If Nancy Pelosi can go unchallenged for her leadership position after that kind of defeat — and two big losses in three cycles — then why would anyone think that the House GOP would dump Boehner after two big wins out of three?
Chris Cillizza issues a mea culpa for his earlier prediction that Boehner would get the boot:
1. Winning changes everything. This is the most obvious thing I overlooked in my Boehner-can’t-hold-on conclusion. The 2014 election was a very good one to be a Republican; while most prognosticators expected a mid- to high-single-digit seat gain for Republicans, the party has netted 10 seats so far and has two more in the bag in Louisiana come Saturday. And the GOP is ahead in Arizona’s 2nd. That’s a 13-seat gain — and the largest Republican House majority since World War II. When your team wins the World Series, you don’t fire the manager — no matter how up and down the season that led to that championship was. …
4. Obama. Boehner’s best ally in shoring up support among House Republicans was the man sitting in the White House. There is nothing so unifying in politics as rallying around a common enemy. As 2014 wore on and relations between the White House and congressional Republicans eroded even further, Boehner was able to cast himself as the one guy willing to stand up for conservative values against the administration. His decision to file suit against Obama over the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act thrilled conservatives. And the coming fight over Obama’s executive action on immigration will have a similar rally ’round the speaker effect. Being Obama’s foil is a recipe for success for a national Republican leader. And that’s the space Boehner has increasingly filled.
But what about the shutdown? Lots of commentators are predicting trouble for Republicans if they don’t pass a spending bill in the House this week that the outgoing Democratic majority in the Senate will accept. Politico’s Jake Sherman foresees a more subtle strategy developing:
But inside Republican leadership, senior aides and lawmakers freely admit that the executive order — no matter how unpopular it is — will likely stand and there’s little Congress can do about it. So Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise need to craft a process that will allow conservatives to vent, but prevent a shutdown.
The strategy will begin to take shape Tuesday morning, when the GOP meets in a closed session in the Capitol basement.
One scheme has emerged as a favorite. The leadership would like to craft two bills to fund the government: one that would keep most of the government open through September 2015, and another that would fund immigration enforcement agencies through the first few months of the year. There’s also the potential for stand-alone legislation to try to target Obama’s executive action.
The bigger question will be whether Democrats can sustain a bipartisan agreement even if the House passes it:
The White House threatened to veto the $450 billion agreement between Reid and Boehner because it did not cover expansions of the child tax credit and earned income tax credit favored by Obama. The package would also add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.
Reid backed the bipartisan package because it would extend the deduction for state sales taxes, which is important in his home state of Nevada, which has no income tax.
The veto threat has left the fate of the tax extenders package up in the air, and it’s not clear that it will get done during the lame-duck session.
The real focus should be on the Senate rather than the House. Will Reid go out carrying the White House’s water, or will he abide by any bipartisan agreement and put Obama on the spot?