By Molly K. Hooper - 01/02/13 05:38 AM EST
When House GOP lawmakers entered the chamber late Tuesday night to vote on the Senate-backed "fiscal cliff" bill, one mystery remained: How would their leadership team vote on the must-pass bill?
Within 25 minutes, the mystery was solved, with a divided leadership on display for the members to see.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wasted little time in casting a yes vote for the bipartisan measure. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) waited until the last minute to vote no.
Even though the Speaker doesn’t traditionally cast a vote, Boehner walked onto the floor less than one minute after the vote opened, leaned over a colleague to place his card in an electronic machine and voted “aye.”
Boehner would be joined by 84 other GOP lawmakers in voting for the bill. Many Republicans did not support the legislation, but opted to vote for the bill as a means to stave off the potential calamity of the fiscal cliff's across-the-board tax hikes.
McCarthy and Roskam, who were present on the floor throughout the 15-minute vote, refrained from casting “no” votes until the measure had hit the 218 marker, signaling passage.
They waited until Cantor appeared on the floor, with zero minutes remaining on the vote clock, to cast his own “no” vote — putting him at odds with the Speaker.
Prior to the important vote, one GOP lawmaker — who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution — told The Hill that it would be cowardly for GOP leaders to hold a vote on the floor that “they clearly wanted to pass” and then vote against it.
"You can't expect members to be braver than leaders. You ought to have the courage to put your fingerprints on it and vote for it, because you are basically asking the rest of us [to do so]. We deserve the air coverage it could give us,” the lawmaker said.
Asked what the split vote signified, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — who managed the bill for Republicans — told The Hill only that he was happy that the bill passed.
“We got the right result tonight, and that is we got a tax cut for 99 percent of the American people. I'm not in leadership, so I'll let them sort their own problems out,” Camp said as he headed into his office, situated just off the House floor.
The GOP’s former vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), surprised his colleagues by voting for the measure.
In a statement, Ryan, who had avoided the press all day, said that he opposed portions of the Senate-passed bill but had to weigh his concerns against the consequences of inaction.
“The American people chose divided government. As elected officials, we have a duty to apply our principles to the realities of governing. ... But the question remains: Will the American people be better off if this law passes relative to the alternative? In the final analysis, the answer is undoubtedly yes. I came to Congress to make tough decisions — not to run away from them,” Ryan said in a statement.
Following the vote, McCarthy explained that the leaders didn’t twist arms on the Senate-backed bill and the split was simply a difference of opinion.
"The leadership was split. Sometimes you have a difference of opinion. We went through — we analyzed where people were. We didn't twist arms on this vote or whip from that perspective,” McCarthy told reporters as he left the floor.
"The bill passed," he said. "There were good reasons to vote for it and good reasons to vote against it."
Boehner and Cantor refrained from answering reporters' questions as they left the floor after a long New Year's Day of legislating.
A Cantor aide disputed the notion that there had been any schism among the leadership, noting that the No. 2-ranking House Republican was upset with early-morning Senate vote.
“The leader was not happy with the deal passed at 2 a.m. [Tuesday] morning and spent the day trying to find an alternative. It was clear [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] would not support a vote on an amendment to cut spending, despite this bill sorely lacking in that area,” Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper told The Hill.
Cooper added, "The leader is very proud of the Speaker and the entire conference. They were committed to making sure we avoided the largest tax hike in history, and focusing on the real problem, which is spending.”
Another GOP lawmaker told The Hill that the split was not a good sign as House leaders look to tackle the upcoming fiscal fights with the administration.
"It divides us going into the most important three months in the next Congress,” the lawmaker said.