House Wars: The Establishment Strikes Back

As Allahpundit described in yesterday’s open thread, for all the sound and fury on Twitter and Facebook and various blogs, in the end John Boehner was elected to another term as Speaker on a single vote. But as expected, it wasn’t unanimous. A mixed bag of 25 members voted for someone other than Boehner, short of the 29 it would have taken to force a second vote. And before the echoes of his acceptance speech had even finished ringing in the hall, John Boehner struck back.

After he secured his third term as speaker Tuesday afternoon, losing 25 votes on the House floor to some relative-unknown members of the Republican Conference, Boehner moved swiftly to boot two of the insurgents from the influential Rules Committee. That could be just the start of payback for the speaker’s betrayers, who might see subcommittee chairmanships and other perks fall away in the coming months.

Boehner’s allies have thirsted for this kind of action from the speaker, who say he’s let people walk all over him for too long and is too nice to people who are eager to stab him in the back…

The House Republican leadership is carefully reviewing the list of members who voted against the speaker and those who opposed a procedural motion in December on the so-called “crominibus,” the $1.1 trillion spending package to keep the government open through to September. Top Republican sources suggested that the process could take months to unfold.

We’ve been asking around, and this may be just the beginning. It seems that Boehner is feeling pretty confident at the moment and is claiming to have somewhere between 210 and 220 “solid” votes for whatever they want to bring to the floor. Whether some hot revenge sends a message that increases that number or alienates some additional members remains to be seen.

Was this unexpected? No. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of Jim Geraghty prior to the vote who essentially renewed the old warning that if you strike at the King, you’d best be sure you don’t miss.

The outlook for Boehner would be a lot cloudier if there was an alternative who was well-liked by about 218 or so of his colleagues and who seemed genuinely interested in the job. This person would have to enjoy the trust and faith of the conservatives, while also reassuring less conservative members that his agenda for floor votes wouldn’t be endangering them. He would have to have a good feel for the political instincts and world-views of just about every member, and know their passions and idiosyncrasies. And on just about every issue under the sun, he would have to know exactly what kind of a deal a majority of his members could live with, and what they couldn’t.

It’s a tall order. And if Boehner wins today, it may very well be that for all of his flaws, a majority of his colleagues aren’t yet convinced that any other member can handle that task any better than Boehner can right now.

If you want to persuade a member to do something that involves risk — and voting against the current Speaker involves a lot of risk – you have to lay out how taking the risk serves that member’s self-interest.

What remains to be seen is precisely what the conservative revolt members had in mind in terms of the long game. The easy answer is that they wanted to take a principled stand and demonstrate to their constituents that they were unhappy with the status quo, consequences be damned. (And rest assured, there will be more consequences.) The less likely scenario is that either Webster or Gohmert’s supporters actually thought that the silent opposition to Boehner was significantly larger than it is, and that once somebody spit on their hands and hoisted the black flag they would go running up with opposition votes in sufficient numbers to topple him.

But Boehner has spent a long time cultivating those relationships and he raised a lot of money for many of those members over the last two years. The campaign for their next election basically started yesterday, so many of the members don’t want to endanger that relationship. And in the end, even if they forced a second vote, they weren’t going to get rid of Boehner, so we’re back to the principled vote theory.

At any rate, it’s back to business today. If we’re lucky, these guys can stop fighting with each other and get back to fighting with Obama.

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on February 04, 2023