Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled four ultraconservative House members from cushy committee assignments this week, a move that was widely perceived as a bid to exercise a degree of control over his raucous caucus. Boehner is in no mood for dissent as he tries to broker a budget deal with President Obama to avoid the fiscal cliff, and the four members — Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Justin Amash (Mich.), Walter Jones (N.C.), and David Schweikert (Ariz.) — all opposed Boehner by voting against raising the debt ceiling last year. Now, Boehner has warned House Republicans that he is "watching" their votes, according to Huelskamp, suggesting that the speaker has more punishment in store for anyone who causes trouble.
Boehner's move delighted liberals, who saw it as the latest evidence that the House leadership is on the verge of surrendering to Obama's demands. "This white flag is as big as a bedsheet," says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post.
And it naturally infuriated some conservative groups, who proclaimed that Boehner was conducting Stalin-esque "purges" of members who didn't toe the party line. Influential conservative commentator Erick Erickson said conservatives "must seek retribution" against Boehner, and Tea Party group FreedomWorks has demanded that the four members be reinstated. Taking dissatisfaction with Boehner to its logical end, American Majority Action, a conservative nonprofit group, is now urging the House to depose Boehner when his speakership comes up for a vote at the start of the new Congress in January:
Everyone thinks it’s a fairytale, but the Conservative Movement is capable of firing Boehner with just 16 votes.
The House rules demand that a Speaker receive a majority — 218 votes — to be elected speaker. If no nominee for speaker receives 218, the House remains speakerless — as it did during parts of the Civil War.
If 16 House Republicans were to abstain from voting for Speaker, Boehner would only receive 217 votes.
Once we depose Boehner and cause a firestorm, the Republican caucus will get the memo: Pick someone else! These 16 Republicans only need to hold out until the caucus chooses a new leader.
The AMA's strategy is technically feasible, even if it would be a monumental embarrassment for the party. (As a rule, repeating episodes of government dysfunction last seen during the Civil War is not the smartest idea.)
But Boehner may be safe for now. Most members of his caucus "have fallen in line," says John Flowers at MSNBC, and AMA is not influential enough to pose an existential threat to his career. However, there's no doubt that conservative grumbling with Boehner is growing — and it could get even louder as the fiscal cliff talks proceed.