Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) got a taste of both this week. Over the last few days, news outlets, including this one, have published stories about the more muscular stance Boehner has been taking with regard to enforcing party discipline.
A speaker who has at times appeared to be under the thumb of a rump caucus of hard-right lawmakers last week, had several members booted from the House leadership’s whip team after opposing Boehner on a party-line rules vote. Early this week, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) was stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship on the House Oversight and Investigations panel for similarly defying the Party’s leaders.
In public remarks, Boehner Wednesday said he approved. “We have the majority, and when it comes to procedural votes in the House, the majority has to stick together…I think the chairman made the right decision. I made it clear to the members I supported that decision and I don’t think I need to say a whole lot more.”
It marked a major change in the way the House was being run, senior leadership figures reportedly told Politico on Wednesday, promising a “no-nonsense” approach to enforcing party discipline.
Well, that was Wednesday. On Thursday, an unexpected press release issued from the House Oversight Committee.
“Last week I announced a change in the Government Operations sub-committee chairmanship,” Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said. “A number of people have asked me to reconsider that decision. Having spoken with Mark Meadows several times during the past week, I think we both better understand each other. I respect Mark and his approach. The discussions and candor have been healthy and productive. Ultimately, I believe we both want to do what is best for the country. Obviously I believe in Mark Meadows or I would not have appointed him to this position in the first place. It is in the best interest of the Committee to move forward together. Therefore, I have asked Mark to continue in his role as sub-committee Chairman,” said Chairman Chaffetz.
Rough translation: Chaffetz, and by extension House leadership, backed down.
Just to make it abundantly clear that this was an unconditional surrender, the announcement released by Chaffetz’s own committee included a quote from Meadows indicating that he intends to keep doing exactly the same sort of thing that earned him a temporary loss of the chair in the first place.
Saying he appreciated the chairman’s decision to reconsider, he nonetheless added, “I will continue to vote and conduct myself in accordance with my conscience, what my constituents want me to do, and what is best for the country.”
The decision to punish Meadows raised the ire of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard right members of the GOP who have caused problems for Boehner in the past. Members said earlier in the week that they were considering retaliation that could include blocking legislation or even attempting to overthrow Boehner as speaker.
It’s unclear what, exactly, persuaded Chaffetz to change his mind. However, what is perfectly clear is that it is a stinging slap to Boehner and his authority over the GOP members of the House, when disciplinary action endorsed by the speaker himself is overturned after an outcry from a minority of the caucus.
Asked to comment on the reversal on Thursday, Boehner told reporters, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Chaffetz.”
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