John Boehner's Job Safer Than It Looks Despite DHS Defeat

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, listens during a news conference after a House Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Speaker John Boehner’s job is safer than it looks.

The speaker frustrated many fellow Republicans Tuesday by capitulating to Democratic demands to fund the Department of Homeland Security without reversing President Barack Obama’s Novembers orders on immigration. Boehner even voted for the measure as more than two-thirds of his members voted no.

Still, “there is no strong view to take out the speaker,” said Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who opposed the bill.

The House ended the showdown linking Homeland Security funding and immigration policy by voting to fund the agency through September. The measure, passed with mostly Democratic support, omitted Republicans’ demand to block Obama’s orders protecting 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

There was sting to the fact that Boehner, after promising to fight “tooth and nail” against Obama’s immigration orders, ultimately allowed a vote on the plan without that language. Some conservative Republicans had warned that Boehner’s speakership could be in jeopardy if he did so.

Boehner’s allies say the math is heavily in his favor.

While 167 of the 245 House Republicans voted against the “clean” spending proposal, the number who would oust him is far closer to the 52 who derailed a three-week extension of the agency’s funding Feb. 27. It is probably even smaller than that.

Unified Democrats

Democrats’ uniform support of the spending measure let Republicans cast politically safe votes against it without putting the department’s funding in jeopardy. In essence, Democrats let Republicans off the hook.

Until their numbers grow, and until they come up with a rival to Boehner, recalcitrant Republicans stand little chance of toppling the House speaker. Their best shot was at the start of the current Congress in January, when two dozen of them voted for candidates other than Boehner.

He easily won, capturing 216 votes. His nearest competitor, Daniel Webster of Florida, tallied 12.

A major hurdle to any effort to replace Boehner is the lack of a potential successor that Republicans could rally around. Efforts by some in the party to persuade former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas or Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to mount a challenge didn’t succeed.

No Successor

Representative Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican, Wednesday told a group of Bloomberg reporters and editors in Washington that he doesn’t see a “movement” to replace Boehner, partly because of the lack of an obvious successor. He said he doesn’t support any such effort.

“The question arises: Who would take his place?” Duffy said. “I don’t see anyone raising their hand.”

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a Republican who left the House in January after winning a Senate seat, said Boehner’s job isn’t in peril any more today than it has been in the past.

“Boehner’s always had a hard time helping a smaller group of people to understand the strategy,” Cassidy said. “Who would take his place? I just don’t see that there’s anyone who could garner the votes.”

“It’s just that small margin that he could never bring into the fold,” Cassidy said. “It’s like a gnat but the gnat is significant enough to distract the conference from Boehner’s purpose.”

Political Pressure

The large margin of Republicans voting against the legislation reflects the political pressure they face back home and is not a referendum on Boehner, said Representative Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who voted for the measure.

“We ran this out as far as we could without essentially defunding a good portion of our national security,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are many in the House who are able to vote ‘no’ because there are others of us who are willing to govern,” he said.

“Somebody had to cast the vote to keep it going,” Fitzpatrick said.

Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, who is close to Boehner and supported the measure, said the speaker went down every possible alley in an attempt to roll back Obama’s orders.

Some Lessons

“There are some lessons out of this, but it’s not criticism,” Stivers said. “Everybody did what they thought made sense. It’s not like Boehner sat on anyone and told them to vote one way or the other.”

Representative Steve King of Iowa, one of the plan’s strongest opponents, said one question Boehner will have to answer is whether he decided Feb. 27 to allow a vote on the resolution as part of a plan choreographed with Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi and other leaders.

Pelosi of California, the chamber’s minority leader, urged members of her party to support an extension of Homeland Security funding that day, saying in a letter to colleagues “your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week” for the agency.

Boehner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” March 1 that the only promise he made to Pelosi was “that we would follow regular order.” Still, the House voted on the full funding plan Tuesday as Pelosi had predicted.

King, asked whether Boehner might face repercussions over the vote, said, “If you believe the four of them got together last Friday and got together what to do -- yes.”

Freedom Caucus

Some Republicans opposed to Boehner have formed a new group called the “House Freedom Caucus,” which Sanford described as “a group that has strong feelings on constitutional issues and limited government.”

Tuesday’s vote “was obviously some piling on to Boehner where people saw it as a safe way of signaling they weren’t happy with the president’s executive actions,” Sanford said.

A founding Freedom Caucus member, Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, told reporters Tuesday’s vote “is what was designed to happen” when Congress agreed in December to fund all of the government through September except for Homeland Security.

“Maybe I should be more angry but I am not,” he said.

“This was always going to be the outcome,” Mulvaney said. “This is an unmitigated loss for conservatives.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE