Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman Dems brace for immigration battle MORE (R-Ohio) and his allies are charging ahead with their effort to punish conservatives who have been a thorn in leadership’s side — a purge that is roiling the GOP conference.
The latest victim is Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, who could be stripped of his title as GOP freshman class president on Thursday morning.
While the Speaker has lashed out at conservative rebels before, the latest intraparty purge has been particularly aggressive, this time targeting members of the new, conservative House Freedom Caucus who voted against the rule.
Three members of that caucus have been booted from the whip team, and another was stripped of his subcommittee gavel. Buck, meanwhile, faces being ousted as head of the freshman class just months after being elected to that position by his peers.
“It’s clear that leadership has decided there’s going to be retaliation,” he told reporters in the Speaker’s lobby just off the House floor.
But GOP lawmakers and aides close to leadership contend the political payback is being divvied out at the behest of the Republican Conference.
Roughly 200 Republicans believe the retaliation is completely appropriate, they say, and many have reportedly been privately imploring Boehner’s team to take more aggressive actions like stripping the rebels of gavels, denying them travel, halting campaign cash and blocking their bills from the floor.
“The fact is we’ve got more than 200 rank-and-file members who are royally pissed off at those guys for voting to turn the House floor over to Nancy Pelosi,” said a senior GOP leadership aide. “There’s plenty of anger to go around, but the large majority of it is from members who believe much more punishment should be doled out.”
The deep fissures in the party were apparent during Wednesday’s closed-door conference meeting in the Capitol, where Boehner announced he fully supported Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse committee launches probe into National Guard bonuses NIH needs public examination after giving millions to rogue UN agency House panel tells fed agency to stop selling recalled cars MORE’s (R-Utah) decision to sack one of his subcommittee chairmen, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Freedom Caucus co-founder.
“We are in the majority. Part of being in the majority is advancing an agenda — a conservative agenda,” Boehner said, according to a source in the meeting. “You may not agree with every part of the agenda, and when you don’t, you can vote your conscience. But voting against rules is not a vote of conscience; it is a vote to hand the House floor over to Nancy Pelosi.”
Boehner’s remarks sparked a debate in the room. Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) defended colleagues who voted against the rule, saying it was poorly structured and “convoluted.” But two other Republicans close to leadership, Reps. John Kline (Minn.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), said Chaffetz was right to take action against Meadows.
“Committee chairs have to be able to manage their committee,” Kline, the Education Committee chairman, told The Hill. “I hope we don’t need to do that again, but I certainly support that decision, because he’s got to make that committee work.”
Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksSpeaker Ryan tries new Trump strategy: Ignore him 27 days before elections, GOP at war with itself Five things to watch for at IRS impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), who along with Reps. Cynthia LummisCynthia LummisEPA employees won't face charges over Colorado mine spill Female lawmakers urge Obama to back a woman for UN chief Trump calls congresswoman to stage at child care policy speech MORE (R-Wyo.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) was kicked off the whip team in the trade vote melee, typically has harsh words for leadership. This time, he took direct aim at Chaffetz.
“Jason Chaffetz has hurt himself far more than he hurt Mark Meadows,” Franks told The Hill.
Votes on the procedural motions, known as “rules,” are viewed as a referendum on the majority party’s strategy of bringing legislation to the floor. Opposing a rule is interpreted as public rejection of the leadership, which is why the votes are considered tests of party unity.
Centrist Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said enforcing leadership’s rule over committee and whip team assignments is an effective way to instill party discipline.
“When you’re elected to serve in the majority it’s a great honor and privilege. And with that honor comes a governing responsibility. And by taking down rules and empowering, in this case Nancy Pelosi, you’re really undermining the majority,” Dent said.
“Look, if you vote against the rule, you know you’ve got to get off the whip team. It’s that simple,” he added. “Nobody should be surprised or upset about that.”
Dent shared his own experience of deciding to vote against a rule while serving on the whip team as Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown in 2013. He disagreed with the leadership’s strategy of refusing to bring a bill to the floor that didn’t defund ObamaCare.
But he gave the leadership a heads-up about his vote against the rule before voluntarily resigning from the whip team. Dent, who is now the House Ethics Committee chairman, did not hold any gavels at the time.
“I did it with my eyes wide open understanding the consequences,” Dent said.
The move against Meadows wasn’t just about his rule vote. In February, he had stopped paying dues to the House GOP’s campaign arm. More importantly, Meadows apparently had given Boehner and Chaffetz his word he would back Boehner for Speaker before getting his gavel last year, said GOP aides familiar with the conversations; when the vote was held in January, Meadows reneged and cast his vote for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).
Meadows denied ever promising to vote for Boehner as Speaker.
“No one asked me about the Speaker’s vote, including Chairman Chaffetz, as a condition of anything,” Meadows told The Hill. “It’s a bold-faced lie.”
The latest round of retribution has encouraged other Republicans to speak out. In an interview, Rep. Ted YohoTed YohoThe Trail 2016: Sinister plot GOP rep incorrectly says 2005 Trump remarks made 'in a locker room' House votes to restrict delisting state sponsors of terrorism MORE (R-Fla.) accused Boehner of removing him from a spring congressional delegation to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Yoho was one of three Republicans who had challenged Boehner in the Speaker’s race.
The response from a leadership aide: “Taxpayer-funded travel is a privilege and not a right.”
More Freedom Caucus lawmakers could be next on the hit list. Rep. Scott GarrettScott GarrettNew Dem attack ad features foul-mouthed grandmother 10 races Democrats must win to take the House ‘Crystal Ball’ favors GOP in race for House MORE (R-N.J.), one of the caucus’s founding members, chairs a subcommittee on the powerful House Financial Services panel. Jordan holds a subcommittee gavel on the House Oversight Committee. And Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingClub for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' David Duke gets debate slot in La. Senate race Prostitution fight tightens Louisiana Senate race MORE (R-La.) leads a Natural Resources subcommittee.
Buck told reporters a freshman colleague approached him on Tuesday night and gave him a choice: Resign or get ousted by his peers. When Buck refused to step down, his colleague issued a threat: “Well, then we’re going to call a meeting.”
Later that evening, the chief of staff to Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), the freshman liaison to leadership, sent out an email asking for freshman members to gather at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
In a brief interview, Walters declined to disclose exactly what the meeting would be about. But in a statement, she said, “a majority of the freshman class has expressed concerns I share regarding the leadership of our class president.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) joked that he’s “still got the record for being kicked off two committees.” House GOP leaders removed him from the Budget and Agriculture panels in 2012 as payback for repeatedly bucking the party line.
He accused the GOP leadership of having misplaced priorities.
“Leaders unite, they don’t divide. That’s been the Republican concern about President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaThe lazy political writing of 'SNL' The 'October Surprise' our troops weren't counting on Mosul and Aleppo are trees in larger forest of Shia-Sunni conflict MORE, that he’s a divider. And we have our leadership doing the same thing,” he said.