John Boehner today was re-elected as U.S. House speaker with the support of 220 of his 233 newly elected caucus members, while about a dozen Republicans lodged symbolic protests against the Ohio Republican.
“Public service was never meant to be an easy living; extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership,” said an emotional Boehner while addressing the House chamber. “So if you have come here to see your name in the lights or to pass off a political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is right behind you.”
Boehner, 63, will lead the 113th Congress as the 53rd speaker of the House, according to the U.S. House historian website. While receiving support from a solid majority of his caucus, he is facing a backlash from some lawmakers aligned with the anti-tax Tea Party movement.
In a show of their dissatisfaction, nine Republicans shouted out the names of other members -- or party leaders no longer in office -- to replace the speaker. Among those receiving protest votes was former Representative Allen West, of Florida, a Tea Party favorite who was defeated in last year’s election. One Republican voted present and two, both of whom were in the chamber, didn’t cast ballots.
Disillusionment with Boehner largely stems from his agreement to advance on Jan. 1 a compromise measure that raised taxes on top earners without forcing significant budget cuts. The legislation averted more than $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and broad-based tax increases, or the so-called fiscal cliff, which were set to begin in January.
Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said Boehner received a “no-confidence” vote when the compromise passed with only 85 of the chamber’s 241 Republicans.
Huelskamp, who Boehner removed from the House Budget Committee for insubordination, said a telephone poll of his constituents showed that 88 percent of them didn’t want him to support the speaker’s re-election. He voted today for Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is outspoken on cutting federal spending.
“We need a conservative speaker,” Huelskamp said in an interview. “We need a red-state speaker. There are plenty of people qualified to do the job, including people outside of this body. The speaker does not have to be a member of Congress.”
The tension comes as Washington prepares for a series of confrontations between congressional Republicans and the White House over spending, starting with a debate about raising the country’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month.
“Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems,” Boehner told lawmakers today. “The American Dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free.”
Another showdown may emerge in early March, when Congress must confront the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts, half from defense, that were put off in the tax compromise. On March 27, a short-term measure that funds government agencies will lapse, creating another potential fight.
Congress and the White House could agree to settle all those issues in one grand bargain, a goal that’s been elusive in prior talks. Boehner and President Barack Obama, 51, have twice seen similar deficit-reduction negotiations collapse because of House Republican resistance to tax increases.
While some members groused about Boehner’s leadership, no Republican was formally nominated to challenge his re-election. Democrats nominated former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California. She received support from 192 members of the Democratic caucus.
Pennsylvania Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, who voted in favor of the tax compromise and Boehner’s re-election, said the speaker faced only token opposition because “it’s a tough, tough job.”
Members realize that it’s “a lot easier criticize than to stand in a position of trying to bring the very diverse group of individuals around common interests and what’s good for America,” he said in an interview.
Many of the 87 Republicans elected in 2010 on the wave of Tea Party movement “have grown to appreciate how difficult that job is,” he said.
There were 22 Republicans who voted against Boehner’s first negotiated debt-ceiling bill in 2011, which passed on a 218-210 vote. Seventeen of those lawmakers were re-elected, and many of them voted for Boehner for speaker, including Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Tom McClintock of California and Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
Another reason Boehner’s rebellious wing didn’t formally challenge him may be because another possible candidate -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia -- wasn’t willing to take on the role. He received three votes for speaker from those protesting Boehner’s re-election.
Cantor, who backed the speaker’s second term, has been building an image as a team player as he maps out his next steps as a possible successor to Boehner.
Still, the two have had a tenuous alliance. While Boehner sought during his first year as speaker a consensus approach to solving debt and budget crises, Cantor became a spokesman for anti-tax House Republicans in favor of limited government.
In recent weeks, though, Boehner and Cantor have put up a united front. They made a point of always appearing together during key moments: after Boehner’s compromise plan to raise taxes only on those earning more than $1 million failed on Dec. 20 to get Republican votes in the House, Cantor faced the cameras next to the speaker.
After Cantor announced that he opposed the Senate-brokered tax deal raising taxes on those earning more than $400,000 and postponing $600 billion in spending cuts, he walked together with Boehner, who did back the agreement, to a private Republican conference meeting to address the path forward.
Boehner and his supporters argue that Republicans will be in a stronger position in the debt ceiling negotiations now that the fight over taxes is behind them.
In addition, his decision to move the tax bill forward with Democratic backing -- rather than trying to twist the arms of his own caucus members -- may pay off for him in the long run, said John Feehery, a Republican strategist.
“They had the luxury of voting against it because they knew it would pass,” said Feehery.