Even Boehner allies see his speakership nearing an end
The long and troubled reign of Rep. John Boehner as leader of Republicans in the House may be coming to an end. A floor vote will be scheduled later in September to vacate the speaker's chair and even his closest allies believe he may not survive.
In the vote for speaker in January, 17 Republicans voted against him. With just 28 no votes needed to oust him, and several contentious issues coming up in the next 3 months. Republicans may feel they can do better with someone else at the helm.
Talk of Boehner's possible demise is as old as his speakership, of course. The mild-tempered Ohio Republican has experienced wild swings in his political fortunes, going from hero to Republican-in-name-only in a matter of days. Earlier this year, roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers voted against his bid for a third term as speaker. Each time, Boehner has survived and returned to health.
But consider what he faces this fall: a quixotic but determined fight to defund Planned Parenthood, a potential government shutdown, a deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk default, and a contentious showdown over highway spending. Boehner's aides say they expect a vote to oust him, formally known as a motion to vacate the chair.
Boehner allies privately acknowledge the daunting challenge. "Who knows?" one ally said when asked if Boehner could beat back a coup attempt. "I don't know. I don’t know how you change this dynamic."
Publicly, Boehner is projecting confidence and going about his business. His top advisers say that he sees the effort to push him out as a stunt unworthy of his attention. When his allies urged him to allow a vote on the motion to vacate in July — defeating it would be a show of strength, they argued — he rebuffed their advice. If it comes up again, his top aides say they are sure leadership would beat back the effort on the floor.
Set aside the constant threat of rebellion, Boehner insiders argue, and you have one of the most productive sessions of Congress in a long time. The speaker negotiated a permanent change to how doctors are reimbursed under Medicare, which they say will save more than $200 billion without raising taxes. He shepherded through the House the biggest free trade agreement in decades. And, Boehner's friends point out, the Select Committee on Benghazi that he created exposed Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server — a controversy that's dogged the Democratic front-runner for months and shows no signs of going away in 2016.
Although "anyone but Boehner" sounds good, the problem is the lack of a clear alternative to the speaker. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's name comes up most often as a logical replacement, but he and Boehner are joined at the hip and it's not clear if he could be acceptable to conservatives.
GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise may have been a favorate at one time, but his inadvertent speech before a white supremecist group makes him damaged goods. But a more likely candidate who would be acceptable to most members is Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, the GOP conference chair. As a woman and someone who has demonstrated some independence from Boehner, she would be an attractive alternative.
Boehner's enemies will never acknolwedge the huge difficulties he had to deal with as leader. But it hardly matters. John Boehner will go down in history as one of the worst speakers from either party.