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House Dems vow to protect Boehner from conservative coup

March 7, 2015

Mike Lillis

3/6/2015

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Tea Party Republicans contemplating a bid to oust Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) shouldn’t count on Democrats to help them unseat the Speaker.

And without their support, there is no chance to topple Boehner in this Congress.

A number of right-wing Republicans, long wary of Boehner’s commitment to GOP efforts attacking President Obama’s policy priorities, have openly considered a coup in an attempt to transfer the gavel into more conservative hands.

But Democrats from across an ideological spectrum say they’d rather see Boehner remain atop the House than replace him with a more conservative Speaker who would almost certainly be less willing to reach across the aisle in search of compromise. Replacing him with a Tea Party Speaker, they say, would only bring the legislative process — already limping along — to a screeching halt.

“I’d probably vote for Boehner [because] who the hell is going to replace him? [Ted] Yoho?” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Wednesday, referencing the Florida Tea Party Republican who’s fought Boehner on a host of bipartisan compromise bills.

“In terms of the institution, I would rather have John Boehner as the Speaker than some of these characters who came here thinking that they’re going to change the world,” Pascrell added.

Liberal Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) agreed that, for Democrats, replacing Boehner could lead to a worse situation.

“Then we would get Scalise or somebody? Geez, come on,” said Grijalva, who referenced House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “We can be suicidal but not stupid.”

Boehner, who has grappled with dissent from the Tea Party wing since he took the Speaker’s gavel in 2011, has seen opposition to his reign grow this year, even as he commands the largest GOP majority since the Hoover administration.

That’s led to talk of a new coup, something that is more difficult to pull off after the election of a Speaker on each Congress’s first day of business.

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Any lawmaker can file a motion to “vacate” a sitting Speaker, a move that would force a vote of the full House. The effort would almost certainly fail, as the conservatives would need the overwhelming support of Democrats to win a majority. But it would be an embarrassing setback to Boehner and his leadership team, who entered the year hoping their commanding new majority would alleviate some of the whipping problems that had plagued them in the past.

The new push back against Boehner began in the earliest stages of the new Congress when 25 conservatives voted in January to strip him of the Speaker’s gavel.

Boehner’s troubles have only mounted since then, as conservatives have thwarted a number of his early legislative priorities, including a border security bill, an anti-abortion measure and a proposal to limit the federal government’s role in public education — all considered by GOP leaders to be easy-pass bills that would highlight their new power in Obama’s final two years in the White House.

More recently, Boehner’s decision this week to pass a “clean” bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has exacerbated conservatives’ concerns about his leadership.

As proof of the discontent, 167 Republicans bucked their leadership by opposing the DHS package. Their votes protested Boehner’s move to strip out provisions undoing Obama’s executive actions shielding millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. from deportation.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) called Boehner’s capitulation “a sad day for America.”

“If we aren’t going to fight now, when are we going to fight?” he said Tuesday just before the vote.

Every Democrat joined 75 Republicans in passing the bill.

In the midst of that debate, a number of Tea Party Republicans warned that they’d consider an attempt to topple Boehner if he caved to Obama’s demand for a clean DHS bill.

“If it happened, conservatives would be outraged,” said one such conservative who voted against Boehner in January. The lawmaker predicted that the coup attempt might not come immediately but warned the Speaker, “It’s a long year.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and a critic of Boehner’s legislative moves, said recently that no coup is in the works.

“That’s not the point,” Jordan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The point is to do what we told the voters we were going to do and do it in a way that’s consistent with the United States Constitution.”

Citing Jordan’s comments, top Democrats have punted on the question of whether they would support a coup. Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, acknowledged that there are “some disgruntled people who are talking about it,” but predicted that no such effort will materialize.

“If Jordan’s not talking about — he’s the head of the Freedom Caucus — it’s not going to happen,” Hoyer said this week.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested the Democratic minority simply has no place deciding the Speakership for the majority.

“If they’ve got the votes to make it happen, then they should act accordingly. But I would not want Democrats to be a part of that,” Butterfield said. “I would give deference to the choice of the Republicans.”

Still, some Democrats noted the political advantages for their party if the Republican divisions reach the point where Boehner is ousted. The Democrats have almost no shot of winning back the House in 2016 but highlighting the GOP turmoil could help them bite away at the Republicans’ majority.

“I think it would pose a real existential dilemma for us,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “I mean, on the one hand, if you have a chance to take out a Republican Speaker, why wouldn’t you do that? On the other hand, if the obvious alternative is a Tea Party Speaker, now you’ve got to worry not only about your own political situation but frankly about the institution.

“I think that would give very serious pause to the Democrats.”

Other Democrats suggested they would side with Boehner for one simple reason: They’re hoping to move bipartisan legislation this Congress and see Boehner as a more moderate leader with a penchant for compromise.

“Personally, I don’t want to waste two years,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Wednesday. “And I think that the crazy Tea Party type would probably not be willing to work with us on anything.

“My hope is that, what comes out of this is that Boehner realizes that there are some people in his caucus who are unreasonable, and you can never get them to say ‘yes’ to anything,” McGovern added. “Rather than spending so much time agonizing over how to please them, maybe he just ought to focus on how you build more bipartisan coalitions and actually get some things done.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has declined to weigh in on the conservatives’ discontent. Hinting at her own radioactive image in the eyes of Republicans, she vowed not to get involved in the debate.

“I don’t have any intention of getting involved in the politics of that Caucus,” she said recently. “They have enough trouble getting along with each other.  I don’t think I should inject myself into that.”

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