Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., may have been quick on Monday to snuff out public speculation that he could be at least one House conservative mulling a potential challenge to John Boehner’s continued hold on the speaker’s gavel.
However, the fact there even is such public speculation shows some conservatives and groups may be on the prowl to convince someone to help block Boehner’s reelection, when the House holds its speaker election on Jan. 3 for the new Congress.
National Review reported Monday that if “fiscal cliff” talks are seen as having gone “sour” for House conservatives, Price, could be someone thinking of putting his name into consideration by fellow House members. Under House rules, a Boehner challenger from Republican ranks would not have to win – or even come anywhere near to winning – to cause a huge headache for the speaker.
Price is a leading House conservative who last month lost out to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., for the No. 4 House GOP leadership slot of conference chairman. Price’s loss to McMorris Rodgers in last month’s internal elections came without the speaker publicly endorsing her, but several leadership aides have confirmed Boehner had been quietly backing her.
Price also has been mentioned as a potential 2014 primary challenger to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and even a quixotic challenge to Boehner's speakership might score him more points with conservatives, even if it comes at a cost of potential retribution from the speaker.
But amid the talk generated in the National Review piece, a Price spokesman by early Monday afternoon was denying he was a speaker candidate.
“Congressman Price is not running for speaker. He is focused on real solutions to get America back on track. Those solutions reside in fundamental principles that embrace individual opportunity and economic freedom,” said the spokesman, Ryan Murphy.
Still, murmurs of some sort of challenge, or other conservative demonstration, against Boehner tied to the speaker election are percolating amid rising angst over a potential cave by Boehner on taxes in fiscal cliff talks.
If some other House Republican does decide to run, the move could go beyond simply embarrassing Boehner.
What is not widely understood is that to win the speakership again, Boehner must not simply capture more House-member votes than the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California -- or anyone else.
Rather, under House rules, the winner must obtain an “absolute majority” of all the votes cast – a total number that won’t include abstentions or those simply voting “present.” Unless and until someone obtains an “absolute majority,” the House must keep repeating its roll-call votes, until someone does. Those votes must be taken publicly – meaning the winner will know who voted for someone else.
But this means that if all 234 Republicans and 200 Democrats who to take seats in the new Congress do vote – and none of them abstain or vote “present,” (one seat will be vacant because of Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s resignation), Boehner’s reelection could be in trouble if he loses just 17 Republican votes to other candidates.
Votes can be cast for persons who are not even House members. Last month, in closed-door voting by just Republicans themselves, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas even nominated former speaker Newt Gingrich.
A spokesman from Boehner's office said he is not concerned about the speculation.