House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed on Friday to appear on “Face the Nation” when he was confident his Homeland Security bill would pass. As he learned soon after, it didn’t – Boehner’s own members ignored him and killed his legislation – making yesterday’s interview on CBS a bit more awkward than the Speaker had hoped.
At one point, host John Dickerson asked Boehner whether he can still lead his party effectively on issues like immigration. “I think so,” the Speaker said.
The timidity of his response is matched by the uncertainty surrounding Boehner’s weak political standing. Politico reports:
Boehner’s allies are concerned after Friday’s setback that his critics inside the Republican Conference may try to oust him as speaker if – as expected – he puts a long-term DHS funding bill on the House floor next week. While Boehner shrugs off such speculation, close friends believe such a move is a real possibility.“There is a lot of speculation about this,” said a GOP lawmaker who is close with Boehner. “People are watching for this very, very closely.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of Boehner’s closest allies, said late last year, “He’s never wanted to just be Speaker. He’s wanted to be a historically significant Speaker.”
In case it’s not obvious, becoming the first modern Speaker to be removed from office during the congressional session would, indeed, make Boehner “historically significant.”
To be sure, this isn’t the first time the Speaker has been confronted with chatter about a “coup” from within his ranks. Boehner has failed, repeatedly and to his profound embarrassment, to get his members to follow his lead. The result is a weak, flailing Speaker with no accomplishments, no legislative prospects, limited credibility, and no meaningful plan to get his own members to listen to him.
But while Friday’s developments weren’t Boehner’s first humiliation, they were the most striking since his majority expanded to a multi-generational high. Chatter about the Speaker’s job insecurity was probably inevitable.
So, just for the sake of conversation, if House Republicans decided to give this a try, how exactly would they go about ousting Boehner from his post? I’ll concede this gets into a murky procedural area, Betsy Woodruff highlighted some of the possible next moves.
CNN reported that if Boehner allows a vote on a bill to fund the DHS without blocking the president’s action, then conservative representatives may move to vacate the chair, which would threaten his speakership.Professor Larry Larmer of the University of Wisconsin-Extension writes that, “When the chair is vacated, the chairperson’s rights of participation are the same as those of any other member.” … “Upon vacating, the chairperson is not permitted to resume the duties of presiding until the issue pending at the time of vacating is no longer before the group,” Larmer continued.
It’s not altogether clear that vacating the chair would be enough. Ian Millhiser did some related research on this back in 2013 – like I said, Boehner has faced this chatter before – and he found that a significant number of House Democrats would have to participate in such a coup, and there’s no reason to assume they would. On the contrary, it’s likely Dems would assume Boehner’s successor would be even further to the right, and by Democratic standards, worse.
Still, the fact that such speculation exists at all is emblematic of a Speaker facing dismal circumstances.
* Correction: “Face the Nation” was hosted yesterday by John Dickerson, not Bob Schieffer as I’d originally written.