Tom Price won’t challenge Boehner

A senior House Republican said Monday he is not mounting a challenge to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), momentarily keeping a lid on simmering tensions between conservatives and the party leadership.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a conservative stalwart who recently lost his bid for a leadership post, shot down a report that floated him as a lawmaker who could seek to oust Boehner if the Speaker cuts a fiscal-cliff deal with President Obama that breaks with conservative principles.

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“Congressman Price is not running for Speaker,” spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael said in a statement Monday. “He is focused on real solutions to get America back on track. Those solutions reside in fundamental principles that embrace individual opportunity and economic freedom.”

In an article posted Monday, Price told National Review that conservatives “don’t have a proper platform” in the party leadership and declined to rule out either a bid for Speaker or a primary challenge to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who is up for reelection in 2014.

First elected in 2004, Price is a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee and has headed the Republican Policy Committee for the past two years. Last month, he lost to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in his bid for the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, the fourth-ranking leadership post, despite having the support of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the outgoing conference chairman.

House Republicans re-nominated Boehner for Speaker by acclimation in an internal conference meeting after the November election, but the official public vote will occur on the House floor in early January.

The rumblings about Price come as Boehner has drawn the ire of some conservatives for removing from key committee posts four Republican lawmakers who have voted against and criticized the leadership.

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The three freshman lawmakers in the group — Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Justin Amash (Mich.) — wrote to Boehner on Friday seeking a “full and complete written explanation” of the rationale for removing them from their committee assignments. They asked for Boehner to respond by the close of business on Monday.

As of mid-afternoon on Monday, aides to two of the lawmakers said they had not heard from the Speaker. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel later said the Speaker had responded, but he would not provide the reply.

Boehner has sought to strengthen his hand internally as he engages Obama in difficult negotiations over a deficit-reduction plan that could avert the major tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January.

When the Speaker sent a $2.2 trillion offer that included $800 billion in new tax revenue to the White House last week, he secured the signatures of every member of the House Republican leadership team, two other committee chairmen and Ryan, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012.

While outside conservative groups denounced the offer of new revenues, there was little sign of rebellion within Boehner’s conference.

Multiple aides to conservative members on Monday downplayed the chance of a serious challenge to Boehner. And any threat to his Speakership would be unlikely to materialize before the details of a budget deal with Obama emerge.

But the chatter among conservative activists outside Congress underscores the risk Boehner faces in his negotiations with the president, particularly if he yields to Obama’s demands for higher tax rates on the wealthy and an increase in the debt ceiling without securing significant concessions in return.

The Speaker has explicitly pushed his conference to present a unified front during the lame-duck congressional session, but that has not stopped Republicans on all sides of the fiscal debate from speaking up.

Several conservative groups have criticized Boehner for offering revenue to Obama, bolstering the Speaker’s argument that he is making concessions that the president must match.

Lawmakers like Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), meanwhile, have urged the party to bend on tax rates, potentially providing political cover to Boehner if he gives more ground to Obama. 

Justin Sink contributed.