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John Boehner May Have Been Re-Elected Speaker, But He’s Still More Vulnerable Than Ever
The 113th Congress convened for the first time Thursday, and re-elected John Boehner as House Speaker, putting to rest rumors that the Ohio Republican’s position was in jeopardy.
Still, Boehner begins the new session with his power greatly diminished. Two years ago, the veteran Ohio Congressman took over as leader of the House Republican Majority as the toast of the GOP, riding in on the Tea Party wave of 2010.
But Boehner took the helm of a party that was very different from the one he came up in. During the 112th Congress, the Speaker struggled to command discipline over a divided caucus that leaned far to the right on fiscal and social issues. Now, just 25 percent of Americans approve of Republicans in Congress, and just 31 percent have a favorable opinion of Boehner.
The Speaker’s problems have only gotten worse since the 2012 election. In the two months since President Barack Obama’s re-election victory, Boehner has been raked over the coals by conservatives, and his efforts to fight back the rebellion have mostly backfired.
First, there was the outcry over his decision to “purge” four far-right deficit hawks from top House committees, a move that was widely viewed as a warning signal to get other GOP members to fall in line with a fiscal cliff deal. After the cliff negotiations fell apart, however, Boehner could not rally enough Republican votes to pass his “Plan B,” and was forced to pull the vote.
The fiscal cliff debacle culminated in another embarrassing moment for Boehner. The majority of his caucus opposed the lack of spending cuts in the bill, but GOP leaders again could not rally enough support for an amendment. While Boehner ultimately voted for the Senate deal, he lost the support of more than half of his caucus, including his top two deputies, House Majority John Boehner and Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy.
Boehner’s terrible week really got bad on Wednesday though, when he faced a major bipartisan backlash over his decision to close the 112th Congress without a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. The tar-and-feathering reached a head when New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie personally accused Boehner of holding up relief to “innocent victims” over political infighting.
To make matters worse, Christie defended Cantor, laying bare the simmering tensions between the top two Republicans in the House.
By Wednesday night, rumors started percolating that Boehner would step down from his post — speculation that proved unfounded. Boehner was narrowly re-elected with 220 votes, just over the 217-vote threshold needed to win the speakership.
But conservative members came closer to challenging Boehner than most Capitol insiders had expected, with hardliners putting up 9 out of the 16 defections needed to send voting to a second ballot. Several other far-right members abstained from voting.
The opposition to Boehner has been dismissed as disgruntledness from the fringe of the party. But Boehner won 241 Republican votes for speaker in the 112th Congress. Thursday’s votes underscore a growing recalcitrance in the GOP caucus, a fact that could prove very problematic for Boehner as he goes into the next round of battles over deficits, spending, and taxes.