By Peter Schroeder - 12/04/12 12:45 AM EST
House Republican leaders on Monday ousted lawmakers from plum committee assignments, sending a clear message that they are demanding more unity from rank-and-file members.
The moves appear in line with Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) effort to tighten his grip on his unruly conference. However, the decisions are already sparking outcry from Republican lawmakers and conservatives off Capitol Hill.
Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) lost spots on the House Budget Committee, according to an aide. The Hill listed Amash earlier this year as one of the House GOP’s most frequent defectors.
Huelskamp told The Hill he also lost his seat on the Agriculture Committee following a Monday meeting of the House Republican Steering Committee.
Huelskamp said that the move, which he saw as an effort to stifle conservative voices in the party, augured poorly for the Republican Party’s future.
“It’s pretty disappointing, and it’s a way of relegating the Republican Party to permanent minority status,” he said.
“They like to say they’re conservative … but when you go to Washington and you say, ‘You know what, that’s what we stand for,’ they punish those voices,” he said.
In particular, Huelskamp cited a video he recently posted to his congressional website urging Republicans to adhere to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge advocated by Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform, as something that could have upset party leaders.
“It’s clearly meant to punish and penalize in a vindictive manner,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Schweikert said the lawmaker was ousted for shirking GOP leadership.
“This morning Congressman Schweikert learned there was a price to be paid for voting based on principle. That price was the removal from the House Financial Services Committee,” said spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “We are obviously disappointed that leadership chose to take this course, but Rep. Schweikert remains committed to fighting for the conservative principles that brought him here.”
Schweikert won a second term in Congress after defeating fellow freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) in a bruising primary over a newly drawn district.
All four members had had tumultuous relationships with party leaders, bucking the party on votes, and might have rankled their committee leaders.
Jones, for example, sits on the Armed Services Committee, with enough seniority to head a subcommittee panel. But his criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has prevented him from being given a gavel.
“Changes are made for a variety of reasons, most often at the request of committee chairs,” said a GOP leadership aide.
Boehner recently shored up his influence on the GOP Steering Committee, where he now has five votes instead of four. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has three, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has two. All others on the committee have a single vote.
“The Steering Committee makes decisions based on a range of factors,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The free-market group Club for Growth jumped to the defense of many of the lawmakers Monday, calling Amash, Huelskamp and Schweikert “defenders of economic freedom” and praising them for bucking party leadership.
“Congressmen Schweikert, Huelskamp and Amash are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “The dirty little secret in Congress is that while refusing to kowtow to the wishes of party leaders can sometimes cost you some perks in Washington, the taxpayers back home are grateful.”
It is unclear if more Republicans will be removed from other committee posts in the coming days.