Boehner-Haters Heading Back to Congress With More Allies

The anti-Boehner clan is on the way back to Washington, and bringing reinforcements.

Ten of the 12 House Republicans who didn’t support John Boehner’s 2013 selection as speaker are cruising to November victories, despite the business community’s attempts to knock some of them off. Representative Ted Yoho’s primary victory in Florida last night completed the sweep, while the remaining two ran for the Senate and lost.

Yoho will be joined, post-election, by almost a dozen new members who have said on the campaign trail they won’t support Boehner or have refused to commit to him.

“There’s not a lot of things that I agree with Mr. Boehner on, specifically when he takes a weak approach to the president,” said Mark Walker, a Baptist minister who is expected to win a North Carolina seat in and around Greensboro.

It’s an ominous twist in the Republican civil war between the Tea Party and the business community. Neither side had enough power to annihilate the other, so the fight goes into the 2016 presidential campaign. The House rebels could thwart the work of Senate Republican candidates, who were backed by corporate cash and have promised to move legislation.

The arrival of a new batch of lawmakers angry at Washington and bent on slicing federal spending will empower a faction that is among Boehner’s most recalcitrant -- and proud of it. They’ve fought an increase in the federal debt limit, cheered a government shutdown, and complicated efforts to pass everything from a farm bill to disaster aid after superstorm Sandy.

Business Interests

They are openly hostile toward top business priorities, including more funding for highways and changes in immigration law. The group’s more immediate target: shutting down in September the Export-Import Bank, which they accuse of doling out “corporate welfare” by underwriting foreign purchases of U.S. products.

The first vote of the 114th Congress in January will be to elect a speaker. In 2013, nine Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner, one voted present and two declined to vote at all. The last speaker to see as many defections was Nicholas Longworth, also an Ohio Republican, in 1927.

“We have a set of principles and we do our best to stick with them,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican who opposed Boehner and who won an Aug. 5 Republican primary.

Not Powerful

The electoral wins send “a pretty strong message that the Republicans in Washington aren’t as powerful as they might hope they are,” Huelskamp said in an interview.

No one has stepped forward yet to challenge Boehner.

Blair Latoff Holmes, spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-advocacy group, said it was “premature” to speculate on what will happen in the next Congress. The chamber is focused on “important priorities” this fall, including reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, immigration and keeping the government open, she said.

“In terms of our political efforts, this election cycle the chamber has aggressively supported pro-growth candidates who understand the importance of free enterprise and who have the courage to govern,” she said.

Republican leaders have tried traditional methods to rein in the group. In December 2012, a month before the election for speaker, Huelskamp, Justin Amash of Michigan, Walter Jones of North Carolina and David Schweikert of Arizona were booted off several key committees, including the agriculture, financial services and budget panels.

Anti-Boehner Votes

The punishment didn’t take for all of them, as Huelskamp, Amash and Jones opposed Boehner for speaker a month later. As the 2014 election unfolded, all three became top targets of business groups seeking to replace them with anyone else.

In a departure from protocol, at least three Republican members of Congress, including Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan’s Eighth District near Lansing, publicly bucked Amash and endorsed his opponent, Brian Ellis, a businessman and investor. Ellis also had backing from the chamber and its state and local affiliates. At least two of Boehner’s former deputy chiefs of staff made campaign contributions to Ellis’s campaign.

Amash crushed him, 57 percent to 43 percent.

Jones beat back a challenge from Taylor Griffin, who was a Treasury Department official in President George W. Bush’s administration.

“I do what I think is right, and sometimes I think there’s a price to be paid for it,” Jones said in an interview.

Boehner has found ways to work with several members who voted against him. He appointed Representative Steve Pearce of New Mexico to a group charged with figuring out a strategy for a border-security bill. He also reluctantly backed a strategy to force a government shutdown over funding Obamacare, a move he later called a “predictable disaster.”

Winning Converts

The gestures earned Boehner plaudits from some of his most ardent critics. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Tea Party Republican, said the speaker was in a “stronger” position when the government reopened than when it closed.

“The speaker appreciates the support and confidence of his colleagues and has said, many times, he expects to remain speaker in the 114th Congress,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said in a statement.

Boehner has openly backed some of his party adversaries. By Election Day, he will have donated to every Republican in a winnable race, Smith said.

Still, the anti-Boehner bloc is expected to grow after Tea Party primary victories in majority-Republican districts in North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia that incumbents didn’t defend.

“I cannot in good conscience support John Boehner because I think he lost his legitimacy to lead” after bringing to the floor bills that a majority of House Republicans opposed, Alabama Republican Gary Palmer said in a candidate debate before winning a runoff last month in the Birmingham area.

No Backbone

In eastern Georgia, radio talk-show host Jody Hice said he’d support “new leadership with a backbone” instead of Boehner. Hice is running for the seat that Representative Paul Broun gave up to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. Broun also voted against Boehner in 2013.

In another open Georgia district, the Republican nominee is Barry Loudermilk, a former state senator whose donors included Huelskamp, Amash and Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, who also opposed Boehner for speaker in 2013.

The anti-Boehner feeling has even swept over the birthplace of the party he leads: Ripon, Wisconsin, where the Republican Party organized 160 years ago from remnants of the Whig Party,

Representative Tom Petri, a member of the Main Street Partnership of Republicans, which promotes compromise, is retiring after 35 years and is likely to be replaced by Glenn Grothman, a state senator.

“I would have no problem looking for an alternative to Speaker Boehner,” Grothman said in a candidate debate Aug. 1. “I have no problem standing up to Republican leadership.”

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