GOP rebel: Boehner’s job is on the line

The Republican lawmaker who introduced a measure to oust Rep. John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDems brace for immigration battle 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote MORE (R-Ohio) as Speaker said Wednesday that the effort to get rid of him depends on his actions this fall.

In a sit-down interview with The Hill, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) noted that there are many issues on the congressional agenda important to conservatives in the House. How BoehnerJohn BoehnerDems brace for immigration battle 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote MORE deals with the series of political landmines could very well determine whether a formal resolution to remove him hits the House floor.

Meadows clarified that it wouldn’t be one particular issue, such as the Tea Party push to defund Planned Parenthood, that could trigger a vote to take down the three-term Speaker.

Rather, House conservatives will be closely watching how Boehner handles a number of issues, including Planned Parenthood, the fight to fund the federal government, preserving sequester budget caps, the Iran nuclear deal and a long-term highway bill.

“Really there is no line in the sand, no limited time on when or how [a vote to remove Boehner] would be done,” Meadows said in his Capitol Hill office. “Probably the best way to say that is there are three or four [factors], and they are all running on parallel tracks.”

Meadows, 56, became a hero to some on the right when, just before the congressional summer recess, he rolled out a resolution ripping Boehner’s leadership and calling for his ouster as Speaker. But because of the way Meadows introduced it, the measure was simply ignored by leaders and never got a vote.

The affable, clean-cut congressman from western North Carolina said forcing a vote was never his intention and that he just wanted to spur “real, open dialogue” about the Speaker during the long summer break.

But Meadows, a co-founder of a conservative bloc of House Republicans known as the Freedom Caucus, said he’s well aware that any lawmaker has the right to introduce a privileged motion to force a vote on his resolution on the House floor.

That means ardent Boehner foes, including Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) or Louie GohmertLouie GohmertGOP rep calls Clinton 'mentally impaired' GOP rep: Trump ‘courageous’ for giving Cruz speech GOP bill would block undocumenteds from military service MORE (R-Texas), could call for a vote at any time.

“It’s just something that all 435 members have available to them,” said Meadows, noting that the last time such a motion occurred was 105 years ago, when then-Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-Ill.) introduced a “motion to vacate” the Speaker’s chair to prove he had the support of his conference.

Meadows has not spoken personally with Boehner since he introduced his resolution in late July, which he did without giving the Speaker any warning. But Meadows said he has been in touch with other members of Boehner’s leadership team and inner circle, and he’s done his best to convey that his fight with Boehner isn’t personal, despite some high-profile clashes this year.

At the start of the new Congress, Meadows personally met with Boehner to inform him he couldn’t support him for another term as Speaker. Meadows called that meeting “gut-wrenching,” saying that he felt empathy for Boehner, whom he described as a “sensitive guy.”

When Meadows defied Boehner on a major trade vote this summer, the Speaker’s close ally, Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzNIH needs public examination after giving millions to rouge UN agency House panel tells fed agency to stop selling recalled cars Trump's big worry isn't rigged elections, it's GOP establishment MORE (R-Utah), responded in kind, stripping Meadows of his subcommittee gavel.

But after a revolt from Freedom Caucus members, Chaffetz reinstated Meadows as chairman. 

“My M.O. is not to personally say anything derogatory about any of my colleagues … To question someone’s motives or to go after them personally is not something I believe is appropriate,” the congressman said.

“The tone and tenor of the debate is just as important as facts and policy.”

The second-term legislator, who has not yet endorsed a presidential candidate, said he has been contacted by 2016 White House hopefuls. Unlike other Boehner critics, Meadows doesn’t yearn for the spotlight. He’s not a bomb-thrower at all, choosing his words carefully.

Asked about comments that he himself has considered running for Speaker, Meadows replied: “To consider and to actually put yourself forward are two vastly different things.”

He’s thrown out the names of several colleagues who he said might make good Speakers, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas).

But Meadows predicted the next Speaker would not come from the ranks of the Freedom Caucus, led by Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), which is determined to pull the conference further to the right.   

“I don’t see it being an ideological decision. For me, I don’t believe the next Speaker will be a Freedom Caucus member,” he said. “It could be someone from current leadership. … There’s at least a dozen or more people that would make a very good Speaker. I’m on record saying, ‘I don’t want the job.’ ”

Boehner has survived two coup attempts since he was first elected Speaker in 2011. Asked about the threat of another hanging over his head, Boehner shrugged it off Wednesday, arguing that he has “widespread support” in the GOP conference.

But Boehner opponents have a solid foundation if they decide to make a run at the veteran congressman. Twenty-five Republicans, including Meadows, are already on record; they opposed Boehner in a January floor vote.

And since then, other rank-and-file members have expressed anger over Boehner retaliating against those who have defied him.

“There are very few of us who have voted against the Speaker twice, and I am one of them,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), another Freedom Caucus member, told The Hill.  “Nothing has changed to suggest he’s earned my vote.”

Any attempt to remove Boehner this Congress would need the backing of members from both parties, and House Democrats said earlier this year they wouldn’t vote to remove Boehner.

Liberal Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told The Hill in March that replacing Boehner could lead to a worse situation.  

“Then we would get Scalise or somebody? Geez, come on,” said Grijalva, referring to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “We can be suicidal but not stupid.” 

Some have suggested conservatives could team up with Democrats to elect a new Speaker, but Democratic leaders aren’t eager to set a new precedent that could harm them when they win back the majority.

“The Republican Party is a deeply divided party,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said when asked about a possible vote to oust Boehner. “But we’re not going to react to it until, you know, until something happens. It’s pretty much a Republican fight, and they’re going to fight about it among their ranks, and we’ll see what happens.”

Regardless, a vote to take Boehner’s gavel would attract headlines and could be embarrassing for the Ohio Republican. It would also likely lead 2016 presidential candidates to weigh in.

Meadows said he has seen some progress in the few days Congress has been back in Washington, saying his resolution bore “fruit.” GOP leaders on Wednesday postponed a procedural vote on a measure rejecting the Iran nuclear agreement and called an emergency meeting with members to discuss their concerns.

“This is the most important vote any of us will take during our careers here on Capitol Hill. That’s some of the fruit that has come out of that,” he said.

Meadows played a role in the 2013 government shutdown that resulted from the GOP’s efforts to defund ObamaCare, something he later said he regretted.  Yet, he says Republicans shouldn’t cave in this year’s fight to halt federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t think any of us want a shutdown, but to suggest there is zero leverage is very hard for any of us to accept,” Meadows said. “So it’s a matter of finding the right leverage.”