House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was reelected to his top post on Tuesday, but the roll call of members revealed surprisingly widespread opposition within his own party from more than two-dozen Tea Party conservatives and libertarians.
Boehner has been at odds with the far-right wing of his party practically from the day he picked up the gavel in 2011, with many complaining he was too compliant or compromising in his dealings with President Obama on spending, immigration, Obamacare and more.
Last month, many sharply criticized Boehner for cooperating with the administration to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep most of the government operating through Sept. 30. That measure provided only short-term spending for Homeland Security, which will be implementing the president’s executive order to protect nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation, but it didn’t include the language conservatives favored to block the executive order.
Still, in the wake of the Republicans’ strong performance in the November midterms – with the GOP expanding its hold on the House and taking back control of the Senate – Boehner seemed destined for an easy election to a third term as speaker.
But his victory was anything but easy, as 25 of the 264 House Republicans cast protest votes against him. Most went to the three declared GOP challengers to Boehner, including conservative gadflies Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho and Daniel Webster of Florida. A few votes went to others, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The final tally showed Boehner with 216 of the 408 Republican and Democratic votes that were cast, with most of the others going to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Ten Democrats missed the vote to attend the funeral of former New York governor Mario Cuomo. “The goal is to get to round two,” Yoho told reporters before the vote, while boasting that the anti-Boehner faction “almost doubled overnight.”
Two years ago, a dozen Republicans voted against Boehner for speaker or abstained – even without another declared candidate to vote for. This time the three announced challengers came close to gathering just enough support to deny Boehner a majority of those present and voting.
Following the announcement of the vote, Boehner entered the House chamber shortly after 2 p.m. to accept the applause and handshakes of many members. Pelosi then presented Boehner with the House gavel to formally launch the new 114th Congress.
During a brief speech, Boehner – fighting tears at times – called for a new effort to transcend partisan differences and to focus efforts on helping the middle class and others suffering from wage stagnation. Without giving any credit to the administration, Boehner noted, “In recent months our economy has showed signs of improvement.”
“After difficult years it may be a temptation to accept what I would call the new normal,” Boehner said. “But . . . far too many Americans remain out of work and too many are working harder only to lose ground to stagnant wages and rising costs.”
“We can do better,” he added. “We can build an economy that furthers better-paying jobs, more growth and more opportunity for the middle class. This is our vital task.”
Without directly addressing the concerns of the two dozen Republicans who openly broke with him today, Boehner spoke more generally about the ongoing “battle of ideas.”
“As speaker, all I ask – and frankly expect – is that we disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “In return, I pledge to help each of you to carry out your duties. My door is of course always open – but don’t get carried away with it – but it’s always open.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today Obama will meet with Boehner, newly ensconced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) next week. It’s the same group Obama lunched with shortly after the midterms.
“This will be an opportunity for them to talk about a range of issues, most importantly the legislative agenda for 2015,” Earnest said.
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