Sources: Boehner ally tried to recruit primary foe for conservative rebel

Republican sources say an ally of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has attempted to recruit a primary challenger against the GOP lawmaker who introduced a measure to oust the Speaker. 
Three senior GOP sources told The Hill they’ve heard Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) has reached out to Republicans in North Carolina’s 11th District to gauge their interest in launching a primary challenge against Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Meadows is a Tea Party favorite who generated national headlines this summer after floating a plan to depose Boehner. McHenry is the chief deputy whip and a member of Boehner’s leadership team.
{mosads}“He has been actively working to recruit a challenger,” one source said of McHenry.
But the sources — two of whom are close to leadership — declined to provide any names of potential recruits. 
It’s not even clear such a ploy would work: Since introducing his “Fire Boehner” resolution, Meadows has become a national hero to conservatives — the kind of voters who typically turn out in GOP primaries.
In a brief interview with The Hill on Thursday, McHenry disclosed that he had recently spoken to Meadows to put the rumors to rest, telling him on the House floor last week: I’m not trying to take you out.
During that discussion, he vehemently denied he had been recruiting potential Meadows opponents.
“I talked to Mark about that. I’m not [recruiting],” said McHenry, whose district borders Meadows’s district.  
McHenry spokesman Jeff Butler reiterated that position in an email to The Hill: McHenry “has not recruited anyone to run against him. Any claims to the contrary are untrue.”
Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith added: “This story, and its premise, are ridiculous.”
A spokesman for another North Carolina Republican in leadership, GOP Conference Secretary Virginia Foxx, said Foxx also was not trying to recruit anyone to take on Meadows. 
And National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who heads House GOP campaign efforts, said he hasn’t reached out to anyone in Meadows’s district.
“People talk to me about things like that, but my focus and job at the NRCC is to beat Democrats,” Walden said in an interview outside the Capitol. “But I hear from lots of people about lots of races. I say, ‘Fine, that’s your deal. That’s not my deal.’ ”
“You hear a lot of things about people who want to run for office,” he added. “I haven’t talked to anyone in his district.”
Revelations of the McHenry-Meadows meeting comes amid a tense standoff between Boehner’s leadership team and the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 40 to 50 conservative lawmakers that Meadows co-founded earlier this year.
Freedom Caucus members have been pressuring Boehner to fight tooth and nail to halt federal funding for Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos emerged depicting organization officials discussing the donation of tissue from aborted fetuses.
And Meadows and his conservative colleagues have threatened to force a vote to oust Boehner from power if the Speaker tries to push through a “clean” government-funding bill next week that includes money for Planned Parenthood.
If McHenry is trying to draft a Meadows challenger, it would represent the second time in four months that GOP leaders have tried to retaliate against Meadows, who was first elected to Congress in 2012.
In June, Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a key Boehner ally, stripped a subcommittee gavel from Meadows after he voted against a leadership-backed procedural vote on major trade legislation. 
Chaffetz reversed his decision weeks later after conservatives on his committee cried foul and demanded he reinstate Meadows.
A month later, Meadows responded in kind. The typically courteous congressman introduced a symbolic resolution to remove Boehner from his top leadership job, accusing him of failing to seek input before making decisions and using his office to punish those who disagree with him.
It’s that resolution Boehner critics say they’ll bring to the floor if the Speaker backs down from the Planned Parenthood fight.
Reached by phone Thursday, Meadows declined to comment about his discussion with McHenry or allegations that his North Carolina colleague might be working to unseat him.
“My focus is on representing the people who sent me to Washington, D.C.,” Meadows said. “I serve at their pleasure, and focusing on potential opponents distracts from my primary purpose of representing them.”
In a previous interview in his office, he said he’s always understood how high the stakes are in standing up to leadership. Fighting for his principles “is a cost I’m willing to pay to … even if that cost sends me home,” Meadows said.
McHenry was first elected to the House in 2004 at the age of 29. Last year, he helped Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) pull off a victory over then-Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) to be Republican whip, the No.3  leadership post.  
Scalise then named McHenry his top deputy in the GOP whip operation, giving him a seat at the leadership table.
Despite the friction between Meadows and GOP leaders, aides pointed out that McHenry and Meadows have had a good relationship in the past. McHenry actually recruited Meadows to run for Congress and endorsed him for the nomination in the 2012 GOP primary runoff.
Meadows represents one section of Asheville, N.C. McHenry represents the other.
“I think it’s imperative that folks in Burke County vote for Mark Meadows, because not only is he a conservative but he’ll be the most effective at serving us,” McHenry told a small crowd in Morganton, where he was stumping with Meadows in the summer of 2012. 
Tags John Boehner Mark Meadows Patrick McHenry

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