Boehner-vs.-Freedom-Caucus Battle Escalates

Leaders and conservatives argue behind closed doors as more retribution appears likely for GOP Conference rebels.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan plans to back the budget with extra defense money.
National Journal
June 24, 2015, 7:49 a.m.

House Speak­er John Boehner on Wed­nes­day en­dorsed one of his chair­men strip­ping an­oth­er mem­ber of his sub­com­mit­tee chair­man­ship for vot­ing against a pro­ced­ur­al mo­tion, the latest and most high-pro­file jab in the battle between GOP lead­ers and far-right con­ser­vat­ives.

Boehner told a private meet­ing of House Re­pub­lic­ans that Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Chair­man Jason Chaf­fetz made the right de­cision when he de­moted Rep. Mark Mead­ows last week after Mead­ows joined 33 oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans in vot­ing against a rule gov­ern­ing de­bate on trade le­gis­la­tion the week be­fore.

“We have the ma­jor­ity, and when it comes to pro­ced­ur­al votes in the House, the ma­jor­ity has to stick to­geth­er and vote for or against, whatever the case may be, those pro­ced­ur­al mo­tions,” Boehner told re­port­ers after the meet­ing, para­phras­ing his re­marks be­hind closed doors. “The chair­man made the right de­cision, and I told my mem­bers I sup­por­ted that de­cision.”

Oth­er mem­bers in the meet­ing spoke up to de­fend Boehner and Chaf­fetz’s po­s­i­tion, in­clud­ing Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Kline and Rep. Adam Kin­zinger, who both said that mem­bers who vote against rules are not be­ing team play­ers. But the speak­er did not go un­chal­lenged, ac­cord­ing to sources in the room.

Rep. Jim Jordan, lead­er of the House Free­dom Caucus, which was re­spons­ible for or­gan­iz­ing the re­bel­lion against the trade rule, spoke up to de­fend the 34 Re­pub­lic­ans who voted against the rule. He said the rule was a vote of con­science be­cause it in­ser­ted rules for de­bate for the trade meas­ure in­to a rule gov­ern­ing de­bate on a sep­ar­ate is­sue, and there­fore should not have been treated like every oth­er rule. Rep. Mor­gan Grif­fith, an­oth­er mem­ber who voted against the rule, made sim­il­ar re­marks.

Boehner shot back at Jordan, however, not­ing that the sub­stance of the bill had already been de­bated and that Jordan and oth­er mem­bers had sup­por­ted sim­il­ar rules in this Con­gress and the pre­vi­ous one with no out­cry.

It is un­clear what fur­ther re­tri­bu­tion, if any, will be doled out. Already, three mem­bers have been kicked off the House GOP whip team for the vote. Lead­er­ship-aligned mem­bers also tried un­suc­cess­fully last week to per­suade their col­leagues to boy­cott a hear­ing of the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee helmed by Rep. Scott Gar­rett, a mem­ber who voted against the rule and whom they view as an un­der­achiev­ing fun­draiser, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al sources.

In the latest move, Reps. Elise Stefanik and Mimi Wal­ters on Tues­day even­ing called an “im­port­ant fresh­man class mem­bers only meet­ing” for Thursday morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to an email an­nounce­ment. A spokes­wo­man for fresh­man-class pres­id­ent Ken Buck said she be­lieves the pur­pose is to strip Buck of his ce­re­mo­ni­al title for his vote against the rule.

In a state­ment is­sued by her of­fice, Wal­ters said: “A ma­jor­ity of the fresh­man class has ex­pressed con­cerns I share re­gard­ing the lead­er­ship of our class Pres­id­ent. In ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar busi­ness, to­mor­row, we will also be dis­cuss­ing the dir­ec­tion of fu­ture lead­er­ship.”

In an in­ter­view, Buck said he was ap­proached Tues­day night and was asked to resign from his post, but de­clined. He said he be­lieves the re­tri­bu­tion is com­ing from lead­er­ship, a point he said was evid­enced by the fact that it was be­ing spear­headed by Wal­ters, who is the fresh­man del­eg­ate to the lead­er­ship table.

“I’m not fight­ing. I’m not cam­paign­ing at all,” Buck said. “I think that giv­en the cir­cum­stances of a num­ber of mem­bers be­ing kicked off the whip team and an­oth­er mem­ber be­ing re­moved from a sub­com­mit­tee [chair] po­s­i­tion, it’s clear lead­er­ship has de­cided there’s go­ing to be re­tali­ation, and this is con­sist­ent with that.”

The Free­dom Caucus met Tues­day even­ing, and mem­bers of the group be­lieve it is not out of the ques­tion that more sub­com­mit­tee gavels could be claimed. Yet there is no con­cer­ted ef­fort to take down oth­er rules, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the group’s strategy.

“That’s a myth. We are not in the busi­ness of be­ing de­struct­ive. If it’s a good rule, we’re go­ing to vote for it. If it’s a bad rule, we’re go­ing to vote against it. I don’t see any­thing chan­ging,” the source said.

In­stead, the group is plan­ning to write an ed­it­or­i­al art­icle out­lining its po­s­i­tion, and sev­er­al mem­bers as­so­ci­ated with the group are re­think­ing pay­ing their dues to the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. The dues have be­come a point of con­ten­tion between lead­ers and Free­dom Caucus mem­bers. Lead­er­ship is frus­trated that some con­ser­vat­ives do not pay their an­nu­al dues to the NR­CC, but con­ser­vat­ives are equally frus­trated that the NR­CC does not help them in re­turn, and that a polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee as­so­ci­ated with Boehner ran ads against Jordan and oth­er mem­bers dur­ing a re­cent con­ten­tious de­bate over fund­ing the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity.

The House has sev­er­al im­port­ant is­sues on its plate this sum­mer, in­clud­ing reau­thor­iz­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank and high­way fund­ing, ad­van­cing a 12-na­tion Pa­cific Rim trade pact, and mov­ing sev­er­al spend­ing bills. It re­mains to be seen how this back-and-forth will af­fect the cham­ber’s abil­ity to le­gis­late. But to be sure, it is cast­ing a shad­ow over every is­sue com­ing be­fore House Re­pub­lic­ans, with no sign of let­ting up.

As Boehner told re­port­ers Wed­nes­day: “I’m sure the fam­ily con­ver­sa­tion will con­tin­ue.”

This art­icle has been up­dated.

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