ep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) narrowly won a second term as Speaker of the House on Thursday, with 12 of his fellow Republicans either voting for somebody else or abstaining from supporting anyone. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fared much better with her Democratic caucus, says Libby Spencer at The Impolitic, and during the roll call she "was actually tied with Boehner several times and at least once was briefly in the lead before he managed to lock down his win" with a bare 220 votes, teasing the improbable spectacle of "a total GOP meltdown with Nancy winning the gavel by default."
Some commentators, like Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, dismiss the failed conservative coup against Boehner as "nothing more than a disorganized rant by petulant children." But the defection of a group of vocal conservatives almost sent the House Speakership election to a second round, something that hasn't happened since 1923, and it marks an ominous change from two years ago, when Boehner received all 241 Republican votes. Boehner is well-liked within his caucus but not feared, and this "warning shot from conservatives," says Sheryl Gay Stolberg at The New York Times, was "a sobering reminder that while he may hold one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, his power is greatly diminished. His Republican ranks are thinner in the new Congress, and many of those who retired or were defeated are moderates who ordinarily backed him."
That raises an important question, with broad implications for the next two years, and not just in Washington: Will Boehner, the country's highest-ranking Republican, be able to control his majority in the House?
No. The Speaker is now toothless: Boehner's pledge to not negotiate with President Obama sounds principled, but it's mostly just a reflection of the new reality, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Combine his narrow speakership victory and humiliating fiscal cliff "Plan B" flop in December, and it's clear that Boehner "can't get enough support from within his caucus for negotiating with the president." In practical terms, that means when it comes to big votes on big issues like deficit reduction, immigration reform, and tax reform, Boehner will have to rely on "large blocs of Democratic support" to pass legislation — a big no-no in the GOP. And that will just weaken him further.
"Weakened Speaker Boehner means tough governing road ahead"
Boehner will be much stronger this time around: The decision to "stop negotiating secret, back-room deals" is the best thing Boehner has done in two years, says John Hinderaker at Power Line. That bodes well for his future. Forging closed-door compromises with Obama and his Democrats just let them off the hook and blurred the ideological differences between the parties, to the GOP's detriment. Boehner should have realized in 2011 that his Republican-led House should only pass Republican bills, but "let's let bygones be bygones. As far as Speaker Boehner is concerned, better late than never."
"Better late than never: Boehner swears off secret deals"
Check back two months from now: You have to feel a little bad for Boehner, say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. "A pragmatist and institutionalist at heart," the GOP leader "is naturally drawn to making a deal." But as we've learned over the past two years, "he 'leads' a group that is simply not interested in compromise" — the very "definition of a no-win situation." His allies insist that he wanted a second term to get big things accomplished regarding America's fiscal fix, and if that's true he may well "stick around to see if he can regain control of what is a decidedly unruly House conference." But if that fails — and watch what happens in the looming debt-ceiling battle — Boehner might find it more rewarding to "step aside before the next election to pursue a lucrative post-congressional career as a lobbyist/rainmaker."
"John Boehner's next act"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- 4 life hacks from ancient philosophers that will make you happier
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- The Daily Show explains Hamid Karzai's 'Afghan Hustle'
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
Subscribe to the Week