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Payback: Boehner hits back at GOP defectors on trade vote

Payback: Boehner hits back at GOP defectors on trade vote
© Greg Nash

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE is sending a stern message to his Republican conference: Either you’re on the team or you’re not. 

House GOP leaders booted three conservative members off the whip team for voting against a procedural rule last week that structured how a trade package was brought to the floor.

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Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) informed Reps. Cynthia LummisCynthia Marie LummisThe rule allowing predatory loans from fake lenders must go now Rick Scott introduces bill banning 'vaccine passports' for domestic flights Hillicon Valley: Amazon facing lawsuits alleging racial, gender bias | Senate Commerce panel advances Biden's top science nominee | Colonial Pipeline CEO to testify on Capitol Hill in June MORE (Wyo.), Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Arizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems MORE (Ariz.) on Monday that they were no longer a part of the GOP’s vote-counting operation, a source close to the whip team confirmed.

And leadership may not be done with defectors just yet.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE (R-Ohio) and his allies could strip gavels from a handful of subcommittee chairmen who voted against the trade rule as well.

“That is probably the next near-term thing,” said a GOP lawmaker who is close to leadership.

Four of the roughly three-dozen Republicans who voted against the trade rule are subcommittee chairmen on the influential Oversight and Financial Services panels: Reps. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations MORE (N.J.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Lummis. Franks is chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee.

Three others, Reps. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller Gohmert21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol GOP's Gohmert, Clyde file lawsuit over metal detector fines Wray grilled on FBI's handling of Jan. 6 MORE (Texas), John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE (La.) and Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineThe day President Kennedy sent America to the moon Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Has the Biden administration abandoned the idea of a moon base? MORE (Okla.), hold subcommittee chairmanships on the Science and Natural Resources committees.

Meadows and Garrett faced potential threats of losing their subcommittee chairmanships after voting against Boehner for Speaker in January. While they escaped punishment, Boehner did exact revenge against two Florida Republicans who voted to deny him a third term as Speaker.

Rep. Dan Webster ran against Boehner for the top leadership job, while Rep. Richard Nugent voted for Webster. Both subsequently lost their seats on the Rules Committee, where loyalty to leadership is expected.

A Boehner spokesman had no comment Tuesday about any future retribution.

On Monday afternoon, Scalise’s chief of staff made calls to top aides for Lummis, Pearce and Franks to tell them they were off the team, sources said. The calls were described as “cordial” and “professional,” almost apologetic, sources said.

The majority whip’s decision was based on longstanding whip team rules that state members must “vote as a team on procedural matters” but are free to vote against leadership on underlying legislation, the whip team source said.

Some ousted from the team said they accepted the decision. Lummis, a deputy whip, said she was aware when she cast her vote against leadership that there could be repercussions.

“Mr. Scalise was trying to include a wide variety of voices from the Republican conference on the Whip Team,” Lummis spokesman Joe Spiering said in an email. “Cynthia respected that and continues to respect the difficult job he has.”

Franks acknowledged he might have taken similar action if he were in charge of the team, noting that he was “extremely conflicted” about his vote.

“I have no ill words toward leadership at all,” said Franks, who wanted to add amendments to the trade package. “I might have done the same thing in their position. They have a different job than I do. ... They’ve gotta keep this place together.”

Pearce was more defiant, declaring that he strives to “vote on principle and that won’t change.”

“Not much has changed in the House. I came here to represent the people of the Second Congressional District of New Mexico. That means considering each vote on its merits and striving to do the right thing for them,” Pearce said in a statement.

Scalise’s decision came the day before Boehner, speaking to rank-and-file members on Tuesday at the Capitol Hill Club, chastised the Republicans who voted against the trade rule.

“I made it pretty clear to the members today I was not very happy about it,” Boehner told reporters after the private meeting. “You know, we’re a team. And we’ve worked hard to get the majority; we’ve worked hard to stay in the majority.

“And I expect our team to act like a team, and frankly, I made it pretty clear I wasn’t very happy,” he added.

Boehner told his fellow Republicans it was “nonsense” that some of them had voted against leadership on the rule, according to a GOP lawmaker in the room.

His remarks, which sparked applause, are notable because GOP leaders for days have been highlighting Democrats’ stark divisions over trade. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that Democrats are engaged in a “civil war.”

The large number of GOP defections on the rule vote nearly scuttled the trade package before it even reached the floor. Thirty-four Republicans, mostly conservatives, voted against it, objecting to the way the package was put together.

It wasn’t until a handful of pro-trade Democrats voted yes that the rule narrowly passed, on a 217-212 vote.

Rule votes are typically partisan affairs in the House.

The rule that nearly failed split the Senate-passed trade package into parts, including separate votes on a bill to aid workers displaced by trade and another to grant President Obama fast-track authority to complete major trade deals.

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who was among those voting against the rule, said Boehner hasn’t spoken to him about his vote. He accused GOP leaders of catering too much to Democrats at the expense of support from conservatives.

“This is the second or third time that they negotiated with Democrats and then Democrats go back on their word. And they still don’t come to the conservatives,” Labrador said at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “We can help them with this process.”

“Voting against the rule is almost like committing a capital crime here,” he added.