By Molly K. Hooper - 01/19/12 10:18 AM EST
A Republican lawmaker told his leadership to put aside their differences on Wednesday during the first closed-door House GOP conference since late December, when the majority party returned home defeated after agreeing to a two-month extension of the payroll tax.
According to lawmakers in the room, who spoke to The Hill on the condition of anonymity, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry (R) stood and said, "Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor, if you are divided or there's a perception that you are divided, we cannot be united as a conference."
Rank-and-file members weren't sure what to expect at the meeting in the wake of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) decision to abruptly end the House GOP protest of the Senate's move to pass a two-month extension before skipping town last month.
In late December, a GOP insider said the tensions between Boehner and Cantor loyalists would reverberate into the new year, and that the House Republican Conference could be in utter disarray in January and February.
Though some were expecting lawmakers outraged by the December about-face to stand and castigate the Speaker for making the unilateral decision, that didn't happen.
What did happen, however, was more telling, said a lawmaker who attended the closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol.
Terry's comments addressed the elephant in the room: that the leaders were divided over the strategy of dealing with the payroll tax cut extension in that dark December period for House Republicans.
Yet neither leader "batted an eye" or responded to Terry's remark, according to those present.
The rank and file will have Thursday, Friday and Saturday to discuss the dust-up at the end of the year during their retreat in Baltimore.
GOP lawmakers head to "Charm City" for a third year in a row, to hold their annual retreat looking toward what's to come in the election year.