By Molly K. Hooper - 09/15/13 04:00 PM EDT
Republican lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with what they say is a lack of communication from their leaders.
That deep division is flaring at a time when fiscal showdowns are front and center following the August recess. A number of lawmakers, who spoke with The Hill on the condition of anonymity, say they are upset that their leaders don't appear to have a strategy and didn't communicate more with them during the summer break.
Shortly after Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz unveiled his intention in mid-July to turn up the heat on House Republicans on ObamaCare funding, a GOP lawmaker walked to Boehner's office to warn the Speaker of the impending public relations battle, according to a lawmaker close to the situation.
The source said that Boehner was asked to “get in front of the issue or else the battle will be set for us."
But the Speaker and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) opted not to publicly shoot down Cruz's ideas. Cruz has subsequently been joined by other senators, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Over the five-week recess, GOP lawmakers dealt with angry constituents on a daily basis, provoked by the conservative crusade to defund ObamaCare by any means necessary — even at the risk of a government shutdown.
But leaders did not appear to get that message, one lawmaker said, noting they spent much of the summer fundraising.
"The leadership, because of other obligations they have during the August recess to raise money and meet with groups, may not have had as many town-hall meetings in their specific districts as rank-and-file members, and so they may not have been aware of how strongly the message was delivered to those of us who did stay in our districts the entire August recess," Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said.
A centrist member told The Hill that a group of concerned members met with Boehner and Cantor recently to find out how the leaders intended to prevent a government shutdown.
The centrists at the meeting have been frustrated that the House conceded to a fight that could end in shutdown instead of passing the regular appropriations bills and putting pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass funding measures.
However, GOP leaders have been irked that some conservative members have threatened to defect on spending bills. Those threats have handcuffed Boehner, Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Before the recess, GOP leaders had to pull a transportation funding bill from a scheduled vote because of a conservative rebellion.
To some GOP lawmakers, it felt like leaders let the House leave town in August without a plan to combat Cruz’s crusade or to answer constituents' questions on a potential government shutdown, the centrist member said.
“Boehner should have shut it down before we left ... Cruz started talking about this before we left and Boehner should have said, 'We're not doing that, and this is why.' Just shut it down!” the legislator said.
Many GOP lawmakers share that frustration privately, and several have gone so far as to call their party "leaderless."
“Here we are complaining about a president who can't lead [on Syria], who leads us into this morass, and we're doing the same things to ourselves on ObamaCare, on the debt ceiling,” one conservative complained.
House leaders hatched a complicated plan that would have required the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare, but the bill was immediately shot down by Tea Party members and conservative groups. Lacking enough support, a vote on the legislation was canceled last week.
Now, rank-and-file Republican members are worried about how the House GOP will avoid government shutdown at the start of October. They say that a shutdown could provide an opening for Democrats to win back the House majority.
Still, conservatives, including Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) who believe they were elected to upend ObamaCare, say they have to take advantage of this moment.
“We have the opportunity of a lifetime. We have public sentiment; we have the facts and figures on our side, and we have the leverage with the debt ceiling. Let's put it all together and make it happen. ... The one person who's done more to delay implementation of ObamaCare is Obama,” Ross said.
Leaders must wrestle with the fact that far more than half of their 233-member conference have not served in the minority.
Several GOP veteran lawmakers say their more vocal and unseasoned colleagues don't realize how irrelevant House minorities can be.
They also point out that GOP leaders have a tough job.
"It's very difficult to see why someone would want to be in a leadership position, to carry the weight of all the members, and you can have a percentage that's trying to destroy the majority," Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) conveyed a similar sentiment, noting that being a member of the House GOP is a team sport.
“We have to find a plan that works and get behind the leaders. You can't have you can't have 233 Speakers and majority leaders,” King told The Hill.
Leadership lawmakers and aides have long expressed exasperation at some of their members, saying some in the GOP Conference don't understand that undercutting Boehner only hurts Republican leverage in negotiations.
Boehner's office did not comment for this article.