Disgruntled right wing keeps Boehner coup talk alive

Tea Party conservatives failed to oust Speaker John Boehner last month, but they’re threatening to try again if the Ohio Republican caves in the fight against President Obama’s immigration actions.

While there’s not a coordinated effort yet, chatter of another coup attempt has grown louder now that the Senate is moving to pass a funding bill to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without the immigration riders.

{mosads}Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are pressuring Boehner not to relent unless Democrats agree to gut Obama’s executive orders protecting millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.

But Boehner and his allies are concerned that partially closing one of the top national security agencies could do lasting damage to the party.

Some of the 25 Republicans who tried to strip the Speaker’s gavel from Boehner on the House floor in January are having informal discussions about ways they might overthrow him if he brings a clean bill to the floor, according to one conservative lawmaker who voted against Boehner in January.

“I think the political repercussions both for him and the Speakership are going to be pretty substantial,” said another House conservative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue. “He knows that it would be a big political mistake, and he doesn’t want to throw away all of his political capital on this.”

While Democrats would certainly help get the clean bill to Obama’s desk, bringing it up would likely violate the GOP’s informal Hastert Rule, which states that a bill should only receive a vote if a “majority of the majority” supports it.

“If it happened, conservatives would be outraged,” said another conservative Republican who also voted against Boehner last month but said a coup wouldn’t necessarily take place immediately. “It’s a long year. It is only the end of February.”

Ousting a sitting Speaker in the middle of the session is extremely difficult. But after two attempts on his Speakership in as many years, Boehner is on high alert.

He’s reacted cautiously to Senate Republicans’ plan, refusing to say whether he’d even bring a clean DHS bill to the House floor. 

And he’s distancing himself from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), telling rank-and-file members in a meeting Wednesday that he hasn’t spoken to his Senate counterpart in two weeks, even with an agency shutdown just days away. The two met later that day, and aides to the two leaders have been in close contact.

Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he believed a clean bill could mean the “end of your Speakership,” Boehner dodged the question.

“I’m waiting for the Senate to act. The House has done its job to fund the department and to stop the president’s overreach on immigration,” Boehner said. “Until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see mode.”

Conservatives probably had their best shots at taking out Boehner at the beginning of the past two Congresses. But during the surprise coup in January 2013, some members backed out at the last minute, leaving dissidents shy of the number needed to force a second ballot.

In January, a record 25 Republicans voted against the GOP leader, but they, too, fell short of denying Boehner another term.

The mechanics of ousting a sitting Speaker in the middle of a legislative session aren’t clear. Neither the Constitution nor House rules spell out exactly how a Speaker can be removed.

The last time it was tried was against Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1997. The effort faltered before it even got off the ground, doing severe political damage to the party and many of the key players involved.

Boehner, then the House GOP Conference chairman, has disputed reports of his involvement in the 1997 coup, but he lost his No. 4 leadership job just a year later.

“It’s incredibly difficult and it’s very undesirable,” conservative Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), who took part in the bungled Gingrich coup, said of the process of deposing a sitting Speaker. Salmon added, however, that he wasn’t aware of any discussions now about trying to remove Boehner.

One option that the current conservative rebels have studied is presenting a privileged resolution on the floor calling on the Speaker to vacate the chair. “I’ve explored it fully,” said one conservative.

But any Boehner ally could quickly make a motion to table or kill the resolution with a simple majority, said Donald R. Wolfensberger, the director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Wolfensberger served as the staff director of the Rules Committee when Gingrich was Speaker.

Infuriated Republicans could also hold a vote of no confidence in Boehner in a closed-door conference meeting. It would be “less challenging but it would have the same effect,” Wolfensberger said.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) warned that if Boehner were to put a clean DHS funding bill on the floor, the backlash from the right could be harsher than what the Speaker faced after moving the “cromnibus” appropriations bill in December. Conservatives at the time were outraged that the government-wide funding bill didn’t include provisions to block Obama’s immigration moves.

“Our base would be extremely angry,” Fleming said. “So this is very, very delicate territory for our leadership.”

Fleming was one of 216 Republicans who voted last month to give Boehner another two years. But the Louisiana congressman said he had received more calls urging him to vote against Boehner than when he voted against ObamaCare in 2010.

“So there was a huge swell, huge spike of calls. And that all goes back to the cromnibus,” he said. “To cave at this point, on this bill … I think our leadership sees real danger in doing that.”

Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.

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