Come at the Speaker, you best not miss

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) helped lead the attempted coup against House Speaker John Boehner.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) helped lead the attempted coup against House Speaker John Boehner.
Associated Press

If you check out far-right blogs, you might have noticed the scuttlebutt this week about the attempted “coup” against House Speaker John Boehner. Several conservative sites in recent days suggested there was a meaningful, behind-the-scenes effort underway among House Republicans, and Boehner’s hold on his gavel was loosening.

We now know, however, that those reports were wrong. There was a little drama, and Boehner won a second term as Speaker by a narrow margin, but his GOP detractors fell short of forcing his ouster.

But before the political world moves on, it’s worth pausing to consider the merit of the rumors from recent days – was there an attempted coup or not? As it turns out, there was. It just wasn’t an especially good one.

There were some signs that conservative resistance to Boehner was well-organized, at least by one member who has never been a big fan of the Ohio Republican.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) – who was recently removed from key committees and supported Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for speaker – sat on the House floor during the speaker vote brandishing an iPad. A message was displayed on the screen ticking off members of the House Republican Conference he hoped would oppose the sitting speaker. The title of the document: “You would be fired if this goes out.”

Accounts vary a bit as to the ringleaders of the anti-Boehner campaign. Politico singles out Huelskamp’s efforts, but The Hill’s report said Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who was also stripped of his committee assignments by Boehner after the elections, did much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Regardless, according to Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the coup effort had, at one point, “amassed enough Republicans to deny Boehner the gavel on the first ballot.”

So what happened?

GOP leaders seemed aware of the effort and quickly lobbied the very members whose names appeared on Huelskamp’s iPad. Some, Jones said, “just decided they couldn’t go through with it.”

But it also stands to reason that the coup might have been more successful if the plotters were better organized.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told reporters that a member – whom he would not name – came up to him on the House floor about 15 minutes before the vote and said “there might be some effort to dissent.”

“I said that’s exactly what the Democrats would like to see us do,” Franks said he told the member.

Asked by a reporter if the effort to depose Boehner was “chaotic and disorganized,” Franks replied: “I think that’s being charitable.”

If those leading the coup waited until 15 minutes before the vote to approach possible allies, it’s safe to say the effort was handled in a haphazard way. It’s not even clear if the dissenters held a meeting before the vote.

Regardless, the fact that there was any attempt at all may have some lingering effects. For those involved in the coup, I’m reminded of the phrase, “Come at the king, you best not miss.” Those who acted against Boehner may find the GOP establishment no longer has any use for them.

As for the Speaker himself, it must have been a discouraging day. After two years in which Boehner’s own caucus routinely ignored his attempts at leadership, his first day of the new term led him to confront a vocal group of House Republicans who made it abundantly clear that they reject his authority.

Boehner was already the weakest Speaker in modern times; yesterday only exacerbated his problems

Update: The New York Times reports that the votes against the Speaker from his own caucus were the most in over two decades, and Josh Green reports that the inept Boehner critics hatched their plot at a Capitol Hill bar.

John Boehner

Come at the Speaker, you best not miss