Reps. Cynthia Lummis, Steve Pearce, and Trent Franks have been removed from the [House Republicans'] whip team after they sided with GOP rebels to vote against a rule governing debate on a trade bill, according to sources close to the team. Lummis, a deputy whip and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was perhaps the whip team's highest-ranking bridge to the conference's most intransigent members. Pearce and Franks also are very close to House conservatives.
When John Boehner ran for re-election as House Speaker earlier this year, two dozen of his own members voted against him. It was the poorest showing for any Speaker in nearly a century.
The question was what Boehner intended to do about it. Soon after, some of the mutineers started receiving their punishments -- some were denied subcommittee chairmanships, some were removed as lead sponsors of important bills, and a couple were kicked off their committees altogether.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who ran for Speaker and received two votes – including one from himself -- complained that retribution was "something I would assume Vladimir Putin would do." The whining, however, was misplaced. As we talked about at the time, in every democratic legislature in the world, there's an expectation that a party's members will, at a minimum, elect the party's leaders. Failure to do so puts a member's career in jeopardy.
The same is largely true on procedural votes, where leaders also expect rank-and-file members to follow the party's lead. That didn't happen on Friday, and as National Journal reported, some key members are now paying the price.
I can appreciate why this may seem like inside baseball, but for all the recent Beltway chatter about "Democratic divisions" and a "Democratic civil war" on trade, it's worth appreciating that we've seen some bipartisan disarray lately.
On Friday, House Republican leaders brought Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the floor, but before the debate could begin, the chamber had to approve the "rule" -- a largely procedural measure that sets the terms for the legislation being considered. If it fails, the bill can't proceed.
And on Friday, so many Republicans balked at this vote that the debate on TAA almost didn't begin. That would have been surprising on its own, but some of the Republicans who balked were members of the House GOP leadership's whip team -- members whose job it is to corral rank-and-file Republican members to follow the leadership's wishes.
For Boehner, this could not stand. It's one thing for backbenchers to ignore the Speaker's office, but the House GOP whip team is effectively an extension of the leadership itself.
So, having little choice, Boehner demoted Lummis, Pearce, and Franks from their posts as deputy whips. He also reportedly gave his conference a "stern talking-to" yesterday morning.
What's less clear is how the conference at large will respond to the Speaker's attempts at enforcing party unity. Do they turn against GOP leaders, resentful of the retribution, or do they take Boehner's actions seriously and start falling in line?