Boehner, Pelosi facing defections as House votes for Speaker

Disgruntled House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are lining up to voice their discontent with their own leaders during Thursday's vote to choose the Speaker in the 113th Congress.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to keep his Speaker position while Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already secured her spot as the Democratic leader. But the small groups of defectors are a reminder that neither party is entirely unified heading into the high-stakes fiscal battles that are expected to define 2013.

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For Boehner, Thursday's vote for Speaker could be particularly punishing amid a week when the Ohio Republican pushed through a fiscal-cliff package that was wildly unpopular in his conference, then scrapped a promised vote on federal relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The first move alienated conservatives who said the tax-and-spending package didn't include nearly enough cuts; the second enraged Republicans from the Northeast, who were apoplectic Wednesday that the aid to their districts won't come faster.

Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) threatened to defect on the Speaker vote unless Boehner reversed course on the Sandy measure. After Boehner did an about-face, they expressed support for the Ohio Republican.


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Only one Republican is on the record saying he won't support Boehner's Speakership bid, and others say they're on the fence. That marks a sharp break from two years ago, when Republicans voted unanimously to hand Boehner the Speaker's gavel after the GOP's sweeping rise to power in the 2010 midterm elections.

"I have known Congressman Boehner since I first came to the House in 1995. He is a decent man. But I have sharp disagreements with the manner in which he has handled President Obama and House conservatives," Rep.-elect Steve Stockman (R-Texas) said Wednesday in a statement announcing that he won't support Boehner on Thursday. "While he is all too eager to favorably negotiate with a liberal White House that has outmaneuvered him at every turn, he has been harsh and punitive in dealing with conservatives."

Boehner could also face opposition from the four Republicans punished this month for bucking leadership. Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Dave Schweikert (Ariz.) were all stripped of their committee posts by the Boehner-led GOP Steering Committee, and they've been grumbling ever since.

There has been speculation that 17 Republicans could join forces and deny Boehner the majority he needs to become Speaker. House rules dictate that a lawmaker must receive a majority of the votes in order to get the Speaker's gavel. Republican lawmakers, including one who is not fond of Boehner, said no such effort is under way.

Jones said this week that he hasn't yet made up his mind about his Speakership vote, but warned that if there are options other than Boehner, he "might consider" them. He emphasized that Republicans need a "strong leader" to go up against President Obama, suggesting he doesn't think Boehner is that person.

Freshman GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) likewise would not commit to backing Boehner.

"I'm not going on the record" with my vote, he told reporters on a Wednesday conference call. "There are ongoing conversations on the Hill, so we'll see."

Members have to vote for a person. They cannot simply vote no, though they can vote present.

Pelosi, meanwhile, will also be facing some opposition from within her own caucus Thursday. Reps. John Barrow (Ga.) and Jim Matheson (Utah), two of a dwindling number of centrist Blue Dog Democrats, have already vowed to withhold their support. And a third Blue Dog, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), has also suggested he's ready to back someone else.

Unlike two years ago, when she faced off against Blue Dog Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Pelosi this time around ran unchallenged for the Democratic leadership spot. And while 20 Democrats opposed her during the Speaker vote at the start of the 112th Congress, only 11 of them are returning to the 113th: Reps. Barrow, Matheson, Lipinski, Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Michael Michaud (Maine) and Peter DeFazio (Ore.).

Some of these members voted for Shuler. Others votes were cast for Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). Bishop voted present.

Contacted this week, the offices of most of those lawmakers either did not respond or declined to comment – a clear indication of the politically fragile dynamics surrounding Pelosi's leadership spot, as some Democrats from red-leaning districts seek to distance themselves from their controversial leader for the sake of constituent messaging without emphasizing that split inside the Beltway.

DeFazio, who missed the Speaker vote in 2011, said on Tuesday he did not want to discuss the issue: "I'm not talking about that."

Republicans largely acknowledged that Boehner would be reelected as Speaker, despite the recent internal party frustration over his decisions on the fiscal cliff.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told The Hill that he would think about whom he will vote for when the time came to do so.

"That's a Thursday question," Gohmert said, noting that there were others who had yet to decide which name they will offer as their choice for Speaker. During a GOP conference meeting after the election when Boehner was picked as the Republican leader, Gohmert made a motion for a vote to name Newt Gingrich Speaker. No one seconded the motion. (The Speaker does not have to be a sitting member.)

Even frustrated GOP lawmakers told The Hill that with a divided government and divided legislative branch, few want Boehner's job.

One Republican said that he only anticipated defections from the four GOP lawmakers who lost their committee positions.

Amash suggested he is likely to vote against Boehner. "I haven't made a decision on what to do yet, but as of now, I still haven't seen the changes I want to see," Amash said as he left a closed-door conference meeting, where Republicans considered amendments to the party's rules package.

Amash said his position remains that "if [Boehner] makes amends, I'll support him." Asked if the Speaker had made amends, Amash replied, "Not yet. He's got until [Thursday]."

Conservative Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho), a frequent critic of leadership, said he had not decided how to vote.

Huelskamp wouldn't tell reporters how he planned to vote. Huelskamp has become one of Boehner's most outspoken opponents since he was removed from the Budget and Agriculture committees following the November election. He told The Hill in December that he would wait to see how the fiscal-cliff standoff played out before deciding on his vote.

A member of the whip team, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), said he would be "shocked" if Boehner faced significant opposition on Thursday from Republicans.

"I just don't sense any large-scale dissatisfaction with his leadership," Cole said. "He manages with a light hand, and probably in this conference, that's a good management style.

"This is a popular Speaker. There is no plausible alternative in my opinion," he added. "He deserves to be reelected, and he will be reelected."

Russell Berman and Bob Cusack contributed to this report.