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Against Boehner, Conservatives Shoot a Big Blank Against Boehner, Conservatives Shoot a Big Blank

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Against Boehner, Conservatives Shoot a Big Blank

photo of Billy House
January 4, 2013

So, this was the big House conservative rebellion that has been plotted for several weeks against John Boehner? C’mon. It was more like one of those clown guns that only shoots out a flag that says, “Bang!”

Many House conservatives – there are more than 100 Republicans who describe themselves that way –tend to project themselves as bold firebrands on TV, at town halls, on Twitter and their Facebook pages, and in other venues. And for some, Boehner has become one of their favorite whipping posts, depicted either as overly compromising to Democrats, or too dictatorial to them.

But when it counted on Thursday, and House conservatives could have kept Boehner from keeping the speaker’s gavel for a second term, most just sat on their hands. It seemed like it was a surprisingly close vote – just seven more votes by House Republicans for someone other than Boehner could have blocked him. 

But the truth is, the bulk of those who did oppose Boehner publicly did so unsurprisingly -- he wasn’t even banking on their support. It was the cold-footed reluctance of even a just a few others to join-in that killed the effort.

In fact, just nine House Republicans actually voted for someone other than Boehner. Two of them were freshmen whose opposition came even though neither had yet to serve a full official day under Boehner as speaker. A third is also a new House member who took office in November after a special election.

Three other dissidents were no surprise, having nothing to lose because Boehner recently publicly humiliated them by kicking them from their coveted committee posts (although a fourth member purged from a committee the same day actually ended up still voting for Boehner.) And a seventh dissident had already stood alone just weeks ago in a closed-door Republican meeting to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich as the party’s speaker nominee, instead.

In the end, only two other Republicans joined with these three newcomers and four already established Boehner enemies to ultimately vote against him.

That was the extent of this organized rebellion. Those involved claimed they had had as many as 20 Republicans lined up against Boehner, but several begged out, either through intimidation or their own fear.

It is true that three other Republicans either voted “present” or not at all on Thursday.

That may have helped those three members to convince themselves they were being bold. In reality, this "I won't vote for anyone" milquetoast protest didn’t matter much in impact on Boehner at all, because the rules of the speaker elections held that their votes didn’t even count.

Anyhow, the alternative candidates supported by those who did oppose Boehner were just a hodgepodge of names ranging from Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, former Rep. Allen West of Florida, to even former United States Comptroller General David Walker. More than anything, this indicated the rebels had nobody specifically to rally around, even if they were better organized.

Officially, Boehner won his reelection as speaker – perhaps in some views narrowly – by getting 220 votes from his House colleagues to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s 192 votes.

But the only reason why this would be considered “narrow” – in any stretch of the word -- is because of a quirk in the House rules that requires the winner to get 50 percent of all votes cast for some specific “individual,” plus one – an absolute majority.

In this new Congress, the House has 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats (at the start, there are two vacancies). But on Thursday, only 426 members actually declared their votes on the floor for specific “individuals” for Speaker, and not all of them voted for either Boehner or Pelosi. That meant the winner was required to get at least half of those 426 votes, plus one, meaning at least a total of 214. Boehner thus got six more votes than he needed, not a huge cushion.

But any closer look at the break-down of the votes shows Boehner headed into the speaker’s election unlikely to get much more support than that anyhow – organized rebellion, or not.

Ron Meyer, the activist spokesman for one of the outside groups that had been pushing for Boehner’s ouster as speaker, American Majority Action, is among those who say as many as 17 to 20 conservatives had indicated before Thursday they were on board with knocking him from the speaker’s perch. Meyer and others say they can tick off the names of 10 or so members who said they were on board with the effort – only to back off, leaving their colleagues on the lurch. “They were fired up, ready to go, and then Boehner was able to peel some of them off, or they got cold feet,” said Meyer.

Stick around, though. Voters will likely be able to identify some of these conservatives themselves soon enough, when they return to their ranting about Boehner on television, and the internet, and in town halls.

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