House Republicans return to Washington this week a restless bunch in the wake of an embarrassing legislative defeat and months before they face primary voters in the 2012 election.
The stunning downfall of a stopgap spending bill, which 48 Republicans rejected on Sept. 21, is a clear sign that managing the House GOP Conference in the coming months will be extremely challenging. While House Republicans were able to pass a second spending bill with only 24 defections, the flawed strategy of moving the first piece of legislation has left some battle scars.
GOP lawmakers told The Hill that redistricting pitting incumbents versus incumbents, coupled with the threat of Tea Party primary opponents, has sparked a lot of anxiety among House Republicans.
At separate closed-door conference meetings held last month as GOP leaders scrambled for votes on the appropriations bill that would ultimately fail, the topic of primaries and uncertain political futures ranked high among members’ complaints.
A freshman GOP member attributed the initial failure of the bill to assumptions on the part of the leadership. There were expectations, the member said, that enough Democrats would vote yes and that Republicans who backed the debt-reduction deal this summer would also approve of the stopgap appropriations bill. Yet, only 6 Democrats voted yes and 15 Republicans who embraced the debt deal — that set the baseline funding level — rejected the spending bill that fell 195-230.
“It was assumptions being made, not understanding the political landscape, Republicans running against Republicans in primaries and it not being a conservative position that we believe in. Continuing resolutions are not the way to run a government,” the lawmaker explained.
Other GOP lawmakers told The Hill, on the condition of anonymity, that redistricting and the threat of tough primary battles will cause problems for GOP leaders as they seek to round up votes on politically difficult budget bills.
One senior GOP lawmaker said, “[Speaker John] BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE’s (R-Ohio) starting to have a problem internally because redistricting is pitting Republican versus Republican.”
Another freshman class member told The Hill that the initial CR vote was the beginning of a long lead-up to the 2012 elections.
“It’s not going to get any better over the next 14 months — it’s going to be rough, once some of these districts are solidified. You already have [Reps.] Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) [facing each other in a 2012 primary] – one of the ones I was watching up on the [voting] board … to see who blinks first,” the lawmaker said.
Hultgren and Walsh voted no on both versions of the CR.
Some rank-and-file members pointed fingers at Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for the demise of the initial funding bill that included offsets for disaster aid.
Other lawmakers defended McCarthy, noting that enough Democrats had indicated their willingness to support the original measure, giving the whip an apparent cushion for GOP defections.
Still, sources say that more communication on the bill could have helped avoid the defeat.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told his colleagues that his original “no” vote was “chickensh--,” according to members who attended the closed-door meeting.
Rohrabacher said he changed his initial “yes” to “no” on the first CR vote because he saw that most of his fellow Orange County colleagues had opposed the measure and he didn’t want to attract Tea Party criticism.
He called his action “cowardly” and promised to support the revised spending bill.
In the end, Rohrabacher and his three Orange County colleagues, Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.), supported the next measure, which passed easily. Royce, who is expected to face Miller in a primary, voted no on the initial measure. Miller voted yes.
Moving forward, a GOP freshman member would like to see their leadership present a more cohesive message for the rank-and-file so that members feel better able to defend their votes at home.
“We ought to examine what our principles are, why we are here and stick to them. And the political strategies that are involved in these thoughts, we’ve got to make sure we are on the same wavelength. We ought to be able to beat the Democrats on the head with all these public policy issues because they are demagoguing and they are wrong, and we ought to be able to explain to people why we are right, they are wrong, our policies will work, theirs will not,” the lawmaker told The Hill.