Tea-party conservatives are calling for John Boehner's head, and some leading Republican commentators are already writing his political obituary.
Ain't gonna happen.
Boehner thumbed his nose at the right-wingers this week, and there's pretty much nothing they can do about it.
The reality is this: Paul Ryan, not Boehner, will take the brunt of the tea-party and talk-radio rage over the budget deal. And even if some Republicans in the House wanted to dump Boehner from the speakership, they couldn't.
Boehner pushed back against the Right on Wednesday, calling opposition to the budget agreement from conservative advocacy groups "ridiculous." Those same groups are incensed over Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise's decision to fire the group's executive director, Paul Teller, a pillar of Washington's conservative community.
But simply put, there's really nothing that conservatives—inside or outside of the Capitol—can do about it. The only House conservatives sufficiently galvanized by Boehner's remarks and Teller's firing to revolt against the speaker are largely the same group who tried, and failed, to oust him back in January.
Boehner's open defiance of conservative groups seeking to undermine the budget deal is not the hallmark of a speaker preparing to surrender his gavel. Rather, it's the sign of a leader whose grip on his conference has never been firmer, and whose power is consolidated.
Boehner did not back down on Thursday when asked about his criticism of the outside groups. "They have lost all credibility," Boehner said, noting that earlier this week they opposed the budget deal before it was unveiled.
Boehner added, seemingly for good measure: "I'm as conservative as anybody around this place."
His stewardship of the House GOP during October's shutdown saga won him newfound respect among conservatives, who after the dust settled were quick to squash any talk of replacing the speaker.
Rep. Raul Labrador, one of 12 House Republicans to vote against Boehner's reelection back in January, said recently that Boehner had finally emerged as "the leader we always wanted him to be." And Rep. Marlin Stutzman, the early favorite to succeed Scalise at the RSC, added, "The speaker is stronger now within our conference than he ever has been."
Now, because Ryan took the lead crafting the budget deal with Senate Democrats, Boehner has insulated himself from direct criticism of the accord, even though he is able to push it, actively and even paternally.
While some House Republicans railed against the budget deal Wednesday, not a single one mentioned Boehner's name. Indeed, it's Ryan—not Boehner—who is bearing the brunt of criticism from his colleagues, outside groups, and conservative talk radio.
But that hasn't stopped right-wing pundits from piling on Boehner, claiming that his rebuke of conservative groups on Wednesday amounted to a resignation of his speakership.
"The speaker, in his actions, has declared he will not seek the speakership again," wrote Erick Erickson, editor of RedState.com.
"John Boehner, when he opened his mouth on Wednesday to declare he was no longer interested in seeking the speakership, did so by casting his lot with the party, not the movement," he added.
That's probably wishful thinking, of course. Boehner's office last month told National Journal that he plans to seek reelection in 2014, and as speaker in the next Congress. And Erickson, like other conservative critics of Boehner, has a vested interest in seeing Boehner—and Scalise—replaced with more conservative lawmakers who share the tea-party movement's ideological agenda.
If Erickson carried any significant influence over conservatives on Capitol Hill, Rep. Tom Price would be House speaker right now, and Rep. Tom Graves would be the RSC chairman, as he has advocated in the past. Alas, they are not.
Graves, a leading House conservative, says he does not see an anti-Boehner backlash emerging, at least internally within the GOP conference.
"Oh no – I don't sense that whatsoever," Graves said Thursday, adding, "I don't think you could have characterized this last year, or the previous session, as ones where there's been a loving relationship between leadership and these outside groups. I don't sense this as new territory for anybody."
Of course, there have been shaky times for Boehner, including when he was targeted by the ham-fisted coup attempt early this year. And there have been several instances this year when Boehner has bucked the majority of his members after pushing through legislation without their backing, leading to some hard feelings.
But he has enjoyed the reliable backing of a coalition of Republicans who, combined with large numbers of House Democrats, are capable of passing vital legislation. This coalition includes at least 30 Republicans who voted to end the shutdown, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and to grant funding for Hurricane Sandy victims.
But there are signs that the new budget agreement worked out by Ryan with Sen. Patty Murray will not have to go that far, because it will likely enjoy the backing of a majority of Republicans.
Still, Boehner is moving to minimize any missteps or internal GOP dissension. Two senior House Republican aides say one example is his determination to adjourn the House for the year on Friday.
As one of the aides put it, "The speaker simply does not think anything good can come about for Republicans by staying around any longer."
John Boehner Sounds Off on Conservative Groups
This article appears in the December 13, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.