Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE on Tuesday is seeking to stamp out a rebellion from a vocal group of Tea Party insurgents who are determined to deny him a third term with the gavel.
While the conservatives don’t appear to have the numbers they need to force a second ballot for Speaker, they are working to send a message to the Ohio Republican: Don’t count on us.
The last revolt against Boehner in 2012 saw 12 Republicans either abstain or vote for someone else.
Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) are officially running against Boehner this time, with conservative groups and members of the conservative media cheering them on.
The spectacle of a coup attempt on the first day of the new Congress threatens to spoil what should otherwise be a triumphant day for Boehner, with the arrival of Republican rule on both sides of the Capitol for the first time since 2006.
The conservative opposition means Boehner and his lieutenants will open the 114th Congress with a divided conference, complicating their plans to challenge President Obama with a barrage of legislation.
The uprising could indicate that Boehner will have to continue to lean on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats to get must-pass legislation across the finish line — even as he presides over the biggest House GOP majority since right after World War II.
“He’s the weakest Speaker in decades, so this will further cement the dysfunction ahead of several key cliffs that are coming this week,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “It’s not good news for them, and it means we’re going to have another series of manufactured crises.”
Given Republicans’ expanded 246-seat majority, Boehner allies said that internal dissension is to be expected. Public votes against a sitting Speaker, while unfortunate, are the new norm, they said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who is close to Boehner, criticized fellow Republicans for opposing the Speaker in the first floor vote of the year. They had their chance to challenge him during the closed-door leadership elections held in November, he said in an interview with The Hill.
In past cycles, Cole said, Boehner had fought off respectable challenges in conference elections from then-Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).
“To me it’s just unprofessional,” Cole said of the tactics this time. “We had the conference election. Any of these guys could have run. It would have been perfectly fine.”
Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and other Boehner foes clearly see an advantage to trying to oust Boehner in the public vote. With C-SPAN cameras and reporters watching, they know Republicans running for reelection in deep-red districts will feel the heat to vote against a Speaker unpopular with the conservative base.
A poll released last week found that 60 percent of Republican voters would like to see someone other than Boehner as Speaker.
But Cole characterized the divisive vote as extremely harmful to the GOP conference and its 2015 agenda.
“We should be talking about the Keystone pipeline, fixes to ObamaCare, trade deals, some of the areas where we can cooperate, some of the areas where we oppose the president,” Cole said. “Instead, we’re talking about this on the very first day of the Republican Congress.”
With defectors short of the 29 votes needed to force a second ballot, Team Boehner appears confident that the uprising will fail.
There is no indication that leadership is actively whipping rank-and-file members to back the Speaker. And Boehner himself recently said he and his allies would not exact retribution on fellow Republicans who vote against him on the floor.
That means Boehner isn’t expected to strip any Republicans of cherished committee assignments — a tool he’s used in the past to get opponents in line.
But Boehner does have other means to whip up support: The veteran congressman is the biggest GOP fundraiser on Capitol Hill, and lawmakers know that those who cross him will get passed over when he doles out dollars in the 2016 election cycle.
Boehner raised more than $100 million for his party this past cycle, but didn’t give a dime to the 10 returning Republicans who led a failed coup attempt against him two years ago, according to an analysis by The Hill.
Conservative grassroots activists and some big media personalities remain undeterred. Fox News’s Sean Hannity and commentator Michelle Malkin have been calling for Boehner’s ouster.
Malkin tweeted a photo of Boehner and Obama Monday with the message: “RT if you agree: OUT with the old! #itstimeforboehnertogo.”
And grassroots Tea Party groups have launched online campaigns in recent days to depose Boehner. The Washington D.C.-based FreedomWorks has set up a Web portal on its site where activists can pressure members of Congress to oppose Boehner.
In the past 72 hours, FreedomWorks activists have sent 18,000 messages and made more than 3,000 phone calls to lawmakers while fundraising off the issue.
Matt Kibbe, the group’s president, said the effort would be a success, even if Boehner manages to hold on to power.
“In terms of grassroots activism, dumping Boehner is a big deal that will have a lasting impact on leadership,” Kibbe said. “It makes Boehner more responsive to issues Republicans need to run on to win elections.
“Momentum is building pretty quickly, but we don’t have much time.”