The United States Congress started its 114th term this week, after Republicans handily swept the midterm elections in November. With this new term comes the vote for the Speaker of the House, and this Speaker vote was far more newsworthy than usual: twelve conservatives voted against him after the 2012 elections, but that number more than doubled as twenty-five conservatives voted for other candidates.
Leading the charge against Speaker Boehner was Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, who emerged as a late contender and received the majority of the votes against the speaker. Webster is no rookie in the House: he had served for almost thirty years in the Florida legislature, and was recently elected to his third term in Congress. Webster emerged as a late challenger after Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, and a host of others announced over the previous weekend that they would challenge Speaker Boehner. According to The Hill, “A bloc of at least 15 conservative lawmakers will vote Tuesday to deny John Boehner a third term as Speaker.” Claims like this echo those made two years ago, when a smaller but just as passionate group of conservatives were planning their own coup against the Speaker. In 2012, conservatives would have needed sixteen votes to depose the Speaker, yet in 2013, conservatives would have needed twenty-nine votes, given the recent influx of Republican representatives.
Perhaps there was an increase in hope for a new Speaker after the surprising upset in the 2014 primary when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost to a Tea Party challenger, David Brat. Oddly enough, Rep. Brat was a loud voice against Speaker Boehner in an op-ed released through Breitbart. He cites the amnesty crisis from the previous months as a recent major source of dissatisfaction with House leadership, asking “why did the leadership allow funding for illegal amnesty to be included in the bill in the first place? And why was the leadership willing to whip votes with the president and the House Democrats to pass the bill, but not willing to work with House Republicans to stop the funding of an illegal act?” That question is more than fair.
Nevertheless, it is clear that conservatives are starting to make a statement. Casting twenty-five out of the necessary twenty-nine votes means that this particular Republican Congress is the most divided it has been in decades. Rep. Webster received the majority of the votes of dissent, with twelve, while Rep. Gohmert received three votes and Rep. Yoho received two. An article from the Wall Street Journal breaks the vote down nicely.
Following his re-election, Speaker Boehner wasted no time in carrying out punishment for the party’s dissenters. Notably, Reps. Webster and Richard Nugent, both from Florida, were removed from the Rules committee. Jake Shermand and John Breshahan at Politico believe that this move was pure retaliation:
The reason for demoting the two Florida Republicans was simple: Webster ran against Boehner for speaker, distributing fliers outlining his candidacy and talking about how he would better adhere to the House rules than the Ohio Republican. Nugent supported his fellow Floridian in the quixotic endeavor, which garnered the support of 12 lawmakers. Webster didn’t even give Boehner a heads-up that he was running, although leadership was aware early Tuesday morning that it could happen.
These demotions are further evidence of the growing divide between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party movement. It is a classic move among politicians to punish those who pull their support; “House of Cards” makes a fortune on this Machiavellian idea that’s been around since the institution of government. Despite how common they can be, political stunts like this detract from the impact that these congressmen could have on U.S. policy because they spend too much time and effort on maintaining power.
Unfortunately, punishment within Congress is not the answer. Given the evidence, it would not necessarily be a punishment for Speaker Boehner to be ousted. However, ousting him might just might give the leadership a stronger backbone–or any backbone at all.