Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would likely call them a couple of “wacko birds” on the right, while Tea Party adherents would hail them as conservative true believers and American patriots. But no matter how they’re labeled, Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Ted Yoho (R-FL) are challenging House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio for the speakership when members vote on the issue Tuesday.
There’s little doubt Boehner will win a third term as speaker – his office is treating the challenge as largely a far-right fantasy. Spokesman Michael Steel told reporters earlier that Boehner was selected as the House Republican Conference’s choice for speaker in November and that he expects the choice to be ratified by the full House.
Unlike the last election in which a dozen Republicans voted against Boehner or abstained – even without another candidate to vote for – this time the two declared challengers will try to gather enough support to deny Boehner the total of 218 votes needed to win election. Assuming the 188 Democrats support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California for speaker, or choose to abstain, Boehner can afford no more than 29 Republican defections and still claim the speakership.
While neither Gohmert nor Yoho has a real chance to grasp control of the gavel or deny Boehner a third term, the roll call vote will demonstrate the fissure within the GOP caucus and provide a reliable roster of the conservative Republicans most likely to challenge Boehner and other House GOP leaders in this new session of Congress.
Boehner has struggled to hold his caucus together practically from the day he first became speaker in 2011. Many House conservatives have been unhappy about Boehner’s reluctance to do battle with President Obama over hot-button issues such as immigration reform, Obamacare and domestic spending. Last month, many criticized Boehner for working with the administration to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep most of the government operating through Sept. 30.
The measure provided only short-term spending to the Department of Homeland Security, which will be implementing the president’s controversial executive order to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, but it didn’t include language to block the executive order.
“For a long time there’s been a lot of frustration with the way the Republican leadership has failed to take clear stands on issues that the party runs on – and in some cases failed to take clear stands on issues that some members believe of are of constitutional importance,” said a conservative Republican activist who asked not to be named. What you’re going to see is a sort of venting of that frustration.”
“At some point, being in power can’t be about just keeping power,” the activist added. “It has to be about policy and about saving America. If they [the leaders] continue to say, ‘Well, we have to wait until we have 60 votes in the Senate and the presidency,’ well, that just brings us one year closer, two years closer, three years closer to a fiscal collapse.”
Gohmert, 61, a one-time county judge elected to the House in 2004, is one of the more combative conservative lawmakers. In 2008, he tried to force the House to adjourn to prevent a bill bailing out the financial industry from coming to the floor. Then in 2012, Gohmert was criticized by Sen. McCain after he – Gohmert – joined with several other Republicans in accusing a top State Department official of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gohmert lashed out at McCain, calling him a “numbnut,” then later apologized – but only for using the word “numb."
In an interview with conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Monday morning, Gohmert said his chief goals would be removing the current “dictatorship in Congress,” slashing two-thirds of government regulations and repealing or defunding “everything that means anything” to Obama, including immigration reform, until the U.S.-Mexico border is fully secured.
“Then we decentralize the speaker’s power,” he said. “That’s a problem. It’s a monopoly. You only get one vote on the steering committee, not four or five. We get into high gear and finish all investigations…. We throw out the current tax code. I want a flat tax, I want a fair tax, a sales tax. Let’s have a debate… And we end the automatic increase every stinking year in every federal department and agencies’ budget. Nobody gets that, and the government shouldn’t either.”
Yoho, 59, a veterinarian, was first elected to Congress in 2012 to represent northern Florida after narrowly defeating long-time Rep. Cliff Stearns in the GOP primary.
On his first day in office in January 2013, Yoho joined a protest by a small group of conservatives, including Gohmert, who refused to back Boehner for speaker.
“The American people have allowed us to choose who is best suited to lead the House by electing a deep bench of diverse and qualified members. Our Republic is built on choice, and if needed, I would stand up to give our members that option,” Yoho said on Facebook on Saturday.
In 2013, 12 Republicans broke with Boehner for the speakership, but Boehner was still able to defeat Pelosi by a margin of 220 to 192 – the closet vote since 1997. So far this time, nine conservative Republicans – including Gohmert and Yoho -- have come out publicly against him. Others may surface by the time of the vote.
The seven other Tea Party Republicans who are openly opposing Boehner include: Rep.-elect Dave Brat (VA), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (OK), Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ), Rep. Walter Jones (NC), Rep. Steve King (IO), Rep. Thomas Massie (KY) and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (IN), The Washington Post and other publications have reported.
If Boehner fails to get at least 218 votes on the first ballot, the House would continue to vote on subsequent ballots until a winner has a majority. There is one vacancy in the House following the resignation of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), who resigned after pleading guilty to tax fraud.
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