Members: Boehner will stay on

Greg Nash

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will run for Speaker again if Republicans win control of the Senate this fall, according to a survey of GOP lawmakers conducted by The Hill.

But if Democrats retain their Senate majority, all bets are off, the Republican lawmakers said.

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Boehner’s future is a hot topic in the nation’s capital. The 64-year-old Speaker and his staffers have repeatedly insisted he isn’t retiring any time soon. They also point out that Boehner has filed to run for another term.

But that hasn’t stopped the chatter.

For this article, The Hill interviewed more than two-dozen GOP members, as well as former legislators who are close to Boehner. Most of them spoke off the record.

The consensus is that Boehner will stay. Twenty-two said Boehner will be Speaker if the GOP wins the Senate. Only four members said they believe Boehner won’t be Speaker in the next Congress.

A freshman GOP lawmaker said, “I’ve had conversations with him about next year and he’s planning to be in the picture ... I don’t see any signal for him that he’s tired or he’s done or he’s fed up.”

“My gut is, I think he will [run for Speaker] if we have the Senate,” a second-term member said.

A senior GOP House member said if Republicans are calling the shots in both chambers, Boehner will stick around: “If we take them both, then hey, it’s fun, and [Boehner] goes for it, but if not, he’s [gone].”

It is clear that Boehner, who has battle scars from his fights with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), desperately wants to work with an upper chamber that is controlled by the GOP.

Amid the 2011 debt-limit showdown, a frustrated Boehner said, “I didn’t sign up for going mano a mano with the president of the United States.”

Should Boehner run for a third term as Speaker, it’s unclear whether he can get the 218 votes on the House floor on the first ballot, however.

In January of 2013, Boehner fended off a poorly planned coup attempt and secured enough votes on the initial ballot. A dozen Republicans opted not to support Boehner by voting for someone else, voting “present” or abstaining.

A self-described conservative “wacko” told The Hill he is likely to support Boehner for Speaker, but said there are two to three “ad hoc” groups of members meeting to discuss the possibility that Boehner doesn’t receive a majority of votes on the first ballot.

Some have been discussing how to ensure that Boehner falls short of that goal — and game-planning what would happen next. The biggest question is who would take Boehner on.

Names mentioned include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Rep. Tom Price (Ga.).

But most think this will never come to pass, for a variety of reasons.

Lawmakers note that no one has even hinted at challenging Boehner, who is respected and liked by most in the House GOP conference.

Boehner believes his Senate counterparts will win the majority, and he has started planning for the future.

At a recent bicameral GOP leadership meeting, Boehner was “engaged and committed to talking about next year,” a lawmaker in attendance said.

“[Boehner] always maintains an upbeat attitude, but he was talking very intensely about the future and what we’re going to do,” the source said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Boehner ally, explained the Speaker feels he can get something done with a Republican Congress.

“That means he and [Sen. Mitch] McConnell [(R-Ky.)] will be putting things directly on the president’s desk to negotiate. At that point, the president’s going to have to decide if he wants to have a constructive last two years, that may open up the opportunity for a grand bargain again. ... It’s the opportunity for a large budget deal, entitlement [reform],” Cole said, “I think everything would be on the table at that point.”

Another source close to Boehner said the Speaker wants to leave a legacy before leaving Capitol Hill.

“There’s unfinished business that he wants to get done and I think we will take the Senate and that will allow us to actually get things done ... he’d love to have a legacy,” the source explained.

Still, there are others who believe Boehner is preparing to leave.

Boehner bought a condo in Florida earlier this year, sparking speculation that the Speaker is mapping out his exit strategy.

Meanwhile, two of Boehner’s best friends in Congress, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), are not seeking reelection.

A number of aides have departed Boehner’s office over the last couple of years as well, including Brett Loper, Barry Jackson, Emily Porter, Will Kinzel and Rebeccah Propp.

Republicans who think Boehner will be in Congress next year wave off these points.

A Tennessee GOP lawmaker said purchasing property in the Sunshine State isn’t proof of anything.

“Let me tell you, when the prices went way down a few years ago, I bought a place down in Florida and I’m running again!,” Rep. John Duncan Jr. said.  

Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said the Speaker “has been clear — publicly and privately — that he intends to be Speaker again in the next Congress.”

Boehner will have to develop a more robust whipping operation if he wants to avoid a second round of votes in January 2015, a veteran Republican said.

A handful of Republicans said Boehner would benefit from a GOP challenge for Speaker. After the 2008 election, then-Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) challenged Boehner for minority leader, but was routed.

One House Republican even suggested that Boehner encourage a disgruntled conservative to oppose him for Speaker. That would allow members an opportunity to “vent their spleens. You give them opportunity to have a big floor fight in the conference. You give them notice so that people can lobby back and forth. Then once you come out, the Speakership is worth more.”  

Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Boehner is in a stronger position as Speaker than he has been in years. However, several members said that many conservatives in the GOP conference remain restless.

Some Republicans say any fight over tactics and ideology must be waged behind closed doors. That didn’t happen before the 2013 vote.

“I think that people who play with that kind of fire are apt to get burned. The place to oppose the Speaker is in the conference elections. If you go out on the floor after we nominate somebody, you are really trying to blackmail the entire Republican team,” Cole said.

A GOP member who has backed Boehner thinks the affable Ohioan will be playing a lot of golf in 2015. The lawmaker pointed to Tea Party groups and conservative talk-show hosts that have clashed with Boehner.

“Look at the opposition that has arisen [against Boehner] ... it would be very difficult, very unlikely to get 218 votes in January of 2015,” the lawmaker said.

Another conservative member echoed these points, saying, “There will be a new Speaker next Congress.”