Punished GOP lawmaker stirs new talk of Boehner rebellion

Punished GOP lawmaker stirs new talk of Boehner rebellion
© Greg Nash

A band of House conservatives is discussing whether to retaliate against GOP leaders for punishing rank-and-file lawmakers who voted against a procedural vote on trade earlier this month.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsScalise: Dems should support GOP tax proposal plan Fight over paid leave heating up in Congress The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill MORE (R-N.C.), one of several conservatives targeted by leadership, said members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus will discuss whether to block legislation or try once again to oust Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election MORE (R-Ohio) from power.

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Meadows, who was stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship for his vote, accused Boehner of going back on his word in doling out the punishments.

“Obviously the Speaker said one thing in January — he said, ‘I heard the American people who want to have an inclusive debate.’ His actions do not support that,” Meadows told The Hill in a phone interview. “If, indeed, what he said in January is not the case, and he is not willing to have inclusive meaningful debate, then a change in leadership is certainly in the discussions.”

No amount of “bullying” from leadership would force him to abandon his principles, he added.

Some discussions are expected to take place during a conference call Monday evening among Freedom Caucus co-founders. The full caucus, comprised of between 50 and 60 lawmakers, will meet on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

“Mark Meadows, a good man, a good friend. And what they did to him is exactly wrong,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Freedom Caucus chairman, said in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham on Monday. “And there are a number of us who are fed up with it. And we’re looking for ways to say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna stand with Mark and be as helpful as we can.’ ”

Boehner and other GOP leaders were infuriated when 34 conservatives voted against the rule earlier this month setting up a series of votes on trade legislation. Rule votes are typically tests of party loyalty, with Republicans expected to back their party’s rules for floor procedure, and Democrats expected to vote against them.

The conservative rebellion nearly killed the package, but it was rescued at the last minute by a handful of pro-trade Democrats who supplied extra votes.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) booted Reps. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Trent Franks (Ariz.) — off his whip team for voting against the rule.

A story in The Hill one week ago warned that GOP leaders also could target Meadows and a number of other subcommittee chairmen who voted down the rule, and over the weekend, news broke that Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) had stripped the North Carolina Republican of his chairmanship of the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Chaffetz walked into Meadows’s Longworth Building office on Thursday to inform him he was out as chairman.

According to Meadows, Chaffetz said he had made the decision himself but ran it by leadership and the Steering Committee, which has the power to dole out full committee gavels.

Chaffetz said the decision was based on Meadows’s rule vote and also his decision to stop giving money to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Meadows said he vowed in February not to give another cent to the NRCC after a Boehner-aligned outside group, the American Action Network, began running ads against Meadows and other conservatives for opposing a bill funding the Homeland Security Department.

Meadows said he had voted “no” on the rule after leadership rejected multiple requests from the Freedom Caucus to hold a meeting about improving the structure of the trade votes. In his discussion with Chaffetz, Meadows said he challenged the chairman to explain what a procedural vote had to do with his work on the Oversight panel.  

“Has there ever been a time when I have not supported the chairman, or not supported his efforts or undermined his directives?” Meadows said he asked Chaffetz. “From my standpoint, me being removed had nothing to do with the work I was doing or the effort I put forth on the committee.

“For anybody to believe that leadership was not involved would be to ignore the facts and what was communicated to me directly,” he added.

It’s unclear who else might lose their gavel. Other Republicans who voted against the trade rule are subcommittee chairmen on the influential Oversight and Financial Services panels: Jordan, Lummis and Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.). Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), John Fleming (La.) and Jim Bridenstine (Okla.) hold subcommittee chairmanships on the Science and Natural Resources committees.

If the band of conservatives upset with the punishments can stick together, they could gum up the legislative process by voting against procedural or rule votes.

Ousting a sitting Speaker would be far more difficult, though the possibility has been explored by disgruntled conservatives in recent months. Any lawmaker could present a privileged resolution on the floor calling on the Speaker to vacate the chair, but there are procedural maneuvers Boehner could employ to halt the effort.

Boehner foes could also call for a vote of no confidence in a closed-door conference meeting.

There’s no plot to overthrow the Speaker, Meadows emphasized, but “additional discussions are starting to surface.” He also refused to back down from the fight.

“There are a number of us who believe leadership needs to change their bullying tactics. No one likes a bully, and that is what this is,” he said.

“When it really comes down to representing the people of western North Carolina, I’m not going to shy away from voting how they ask me to vote, no matter what the personal consequences are.”