US House Speaker John Boehner returns to his office after a visit to the House floor for procedural votes for legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 27, 2015.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The scope of House GOP’s schism comes into focus

Late last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thought he had a short-term plan to deal with Department of Homeland Security funding. It failed miserably – the Speaker’s own members, once again, ignored his guidance, killed his bill, and left Boehner humiliated.
Asked over the weekend about the fiasco, other Republican leaders tried to downplay intra-party divisions. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told Fox News that “about 80 percent of our conference” endorsed Boehner’s plan, as if that were impressive. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said of his trouble-making colleagues, “We’re talking about maybe 40 or 50 people at most.”
Scalise and King were wildly understating the scope of the problem. For one thing, for House Republicans to have effectively lost control over a fifth of their conference is, on its face, a serious problem. For another, the problem is actually far broader, as we saw yesterday afternoon.
Only 75 House Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday to approve legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security without provisions to undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
The 75 Republicans who voted with all 182 Democrats in the 257-167 vote are mostly centrists, appropriators or lawmakers in tough reelection races next year.
The final roll call on the clean bill to fund DHS is online here. Note that of the 242 House Republicans to vote on the measure, less than a third followed Boehner’s lead and voted to take care of Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year.
In other words, when GOP officials characterize this as an isolated problem, limited to “maybe 40 or 50 people at most,” there’s ample evidence to the contrary.
Indeed, we’re not just talking about random, no-name backbenchers, either.
More than half of the 21 House GOP committee chairmen on Tuesday broke with leadership and voted against the clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30.
Committee chairmen typically follow the lead of GOP leaders on major votes.
This may well be an untenable dynamic. The House Republican conference is enormous in the wake of their 2014 gains, but it’s not so large as to provide the party leaders with a buffer for governing success.
Put it this way: when GOP leaders urge their own members to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and more than two-thirds of House Republicans ignore the call and vote the other way, it’s emblematic of a schism that can’t be ignored.
Boehner’s response has been that the party is united on goals, but divided on strategy. There’s some truth to that – nearly every House Republican is on board opposing President Obama’s immigration policy, but they differ on which tactics would be most effective. It’s a qualitatively different kind of split than, say, divisions between rigid ideologues and centrists inclined towards compromise and cooperation.
But as a practical matter, the kinds of differences are less important than the end result: a House Republican leadership that cannot effectively lead. The fact that the schism is tactical may make Boehner & Co. feel better, but it doesn’t resolve the difficulties the chamber has in completing basic tasks.