The House GOP revolts: John Boehner officially has no control over his caucus

The speaker suffers another embarrassing defeat at the hands of his own party

John Boehner
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In a stinging blow to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House on Thursday voted down a five-year farm bill, with 62 Republicans siding against the party leadership and voting no.

By a vote of 234 to 195, the House defeated the measure, largely over objections to proposed cuts to food stamps. Democrats decried those cuts as too deep, while conservative Republicans who joined them said those cuts should have been much deeper.

The embarrassing defeat for Boehner comes one year after he opted to not even bring the massive, $940 billion measure to the floor for a vote because of Republican objections. The bill was thought to have had more bipartisan support this time around, and its defeat came as a surprise.

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Boehner even took the unusual step of publicly backing the bill — to no avail. And to pour salt in the wound, the divisive food-stamp cuts that scuttled the legislation had been pushed by Boehner's top lieutenant, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Republicans tried to pin the blame for the bill's defeat on Democrats, saying they'd been banking on 40 promised votes from across the aisle that allegedly evaporated at the last moment; only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Yet as Roll Call pointed out, even with all 40 of those votes, the bill still would have failed.

Many pundits pointed to the defeat as further evidence that Boehner is a singularly ineffective speaker who cannot control the far right wing of his caucus. "House Republicans simply cannot be led by anyone at the moment," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza observed.

"The majority party in the House should never — repeat NEVER — lose floor votes on major (or, really, minor) pieces of legislation," he said. "Republicans, literally, write the rules governing the debate — and, as the majority, must ensure that even in the worst case scenario that they can get the 'yeas' they need from their own side."

National Review's Daniel Foster concurred, saying Boehner had made a "tactical mistake" in forgetting that "the Honey Badger that is the House GOP don't care."

The fact is House Republicans remain untamable. This isn't the first — or fifth — time John Boehner has been dealt a surprise defeat on a floor vote. I don't think he's a bad Speaker, per se, but this caucus is unusually independent for a House majority, and the institutional levers that have traditionally afforded leadership great control over the herd have proven insufficient with this group." [National Review]

Remember, Boehner has been badly burned by his own party before. After much chest-thumping aimed at President Obama during last year's budget negotiations, he ultimately had to pull his "Plan B" budget bill last December for lack of Republican support. Once the new Congress convened in January, there were even concerns he'd get booted from the speakership.

Following the farm bill's defeat, Red State's Erick Erickson wondered if it was only a matter of time before Boehner loses his post.

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The farm bill defeat also underscored why Boehner has taken such a delicate approach toward the massive immigration bill winding through the Senate. Even though the bill is gaining strong bipartisan support in the upper chamber, it contains a pathway to citizenship loathed by many on the far right.

If Boehner couldn't get his party in line on a largely bipartisan farm bill, what are his odds of wrangling party members on a more controversial one to completely overhaul the immigration system?

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.