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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Could Conservatives Overthrow Boehner? What History Can Tell Us

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union Address. Official photo by Pete Souza. PD.

On Monday, the Republican Steering Committee, at the behest of Speaker John Boehner, removed four Republicans from prime committee assignments in advance of the convening of the 113thCongress: Justin Amash (MI) and Tim Huelskamp (KS) from the Budget Committee and Walter B. Jones (NC) and David Schweikert (AZ) from the Financial Services Committee.  Reports suggest that these members were ousted because of insufficient support for leadership positions (i.e., low leadership support scores) on a set of key votes in the 112th Congress.  See here, here, and here.  In addition, three of these individuals (Amash, Huelskamp, and Schweikert) are considered among the more conservative members of the Republican Conference, suggesting that Boehner is trying to rein in the rebellious Tea Party tendencies that were so apparent in the 112th Congress.

This committee “purge” has elicited considerable outrage in conservative circles inside and outside of Washington.  The most radical suggestion, offered by Ned Ryun on the conservative blog Red State, is that a small group of Republicans signal their unhappiness with Boehner by voting against him in the speakership vote on the House floor.  Ryun argues that if 16 Republicans abstain from voting for Boehner for Speaker, based on the assumption that there will be 233 Republicans in attendance when the 113th House convenes in January, then he will fail to receive a majority – and, in time (assuming repeated, inconclusive speakership balloting), the Republican Conference will be forced to choose a new speakership nominee, one more amenable to the preferences of the dissident faction (and, presumably, conservatives more generally).

(One aside: Ryun argues that dissident members should simply abstain from voting.  But the rule for electing Speakers has been interpreted differently over time. At times the requirement has been a majority of all members-elect, and at other times it has been a majority of all members present and voting “for a person by name.”  The most recent interpretation has been the latter. For example, in the 105thCongress, Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker with 216 votes, which constituted a majority of all members present and voting for a person by name, but not a majority of all members-elect.  So Ryun’s strategy, to be safe, should direct dissidents to cast their protest votes for one of their own, rather than abstain.)