But several senior GOP aides note that both Cantor and McCarthy also sit on that steering committee. And neither man -- both have in the past sought to position themselves as more in touch than Boehner with the radical and more-demanding conservative factions in the Republican Conference -- has publicly voiced any disagreement with the removals.
Still, those committee purges, and the fear that Boehner might cave on taxes, is leading some conservative groups to call for Boehner’s ouster when rank-and-file lawmakers vote in speaker elections on Jan. 3. Such an outcome is unlikely but possible if internal GOP dissension festers. That’s because it would require just 17 Republicans -- if all the House members showed up to vote -- to publicly vote for someone else, and thus block Boehner from getting the required 50 percent-plus-one votes required.
Boehner on Thursday told reporters that he is not concerned about keeping the speaker’s gavel as he continues his negotiations with the White House. “What I’m concerned about is doing the right thing for our kids and grandkids,” he said.
But what’s notable is that both Cantor and McCarthy seem to have lost favor with conservatives who are openly floating wish lists of potential new speakers.
“Now, they’re all basically just viewed as the same [as Boehner] -- one team. Not somebody we’d turn to if we wanted change,” said one House Republican, who asked not to be identified. In short, Cantor and McCarthy may be sticking with Boehner because their fates are linked to his.
Rutgers’s Baker said the lockstep approach of Republicans could ultimately give Boehner less leeway to compromise in the talks.
The flip side, Ornstein said, may be that Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy still find themselves “a bit back on their heels” from Democrats winning the popular vote for the House, holding onto the presidency, and picking up two seats in a Senate election that most observers expected to be a bad one for the Democrats.
“They also see the polls showing voters ready to blame Republicans. So leaders [such as] Cantor, Ryan, and McCarthy, who are very smart, and most rank-and-filers, know that it serves their common interests to appear circumspect, united, and aiming at problem-solving,” Ornstein said. He added that “with Obama's approval up to 53 or 54 percent, disunity, division, and a seeming determination to send the country down the tubes for ideological or political gain would be disastrous.”