Boehner’s loyalty tests

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a right-wing Republican from Utah, shared a rather remarkable story about House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“I was very skeptical of him,” remembers Chaffetz, who regarded the educational law as a federal intrusion on states. “He wasn’t as conservative as I wanted him to be.”

There was also a stylistic and generational divide between them, which Chaffetz noticed immediately when he met Boehner. “He’s sort of the Rat Pack/Dean Martin type, you know, with the cigarette in the hand and the tan and the deep growly voice,” Chaffetz says. “He started in the hole with me.”

Boehner, who largely controlled committee assignments, had casually asked what House committees Chaffetz might want to serve on. Chaffetz answered that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was his top choice.

Chaffetz received a call from Boehner aide Trevor Kolego shortly before the announcement of committee assignments. Kolego said he had bad news: Chaffetz had not been selected for the oversight committee. Worse, he was being assigned to committees he had specified as among his least desirable.

A crestfallen Chaffetz took a deep breath, as he remembers. Searching for a graceful response, he asked Kolego to thank Boehner and reaffirmed his support for the leader.

Kolego called Chaffetz back the same day and said, “Congratulations. You got all three committees you wanted.”

Chaffetz exulted, but asked, “What happened?”

“Oh, that’s just John,” Kolego replied, as Chaffetz remembers. “He wanted to figure out what kind of [expletive] you were going to be.”

It led Jon Chait to note an interesting anecdote of his own: “When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, he had a devious scheme for rooting out potential dissidents. Members of his government would be startled by a small team of officials bursting in to announce they were undertaking a coup against Saddam — were you with them? It was a ruse, of course. Anybody who sided with the plotters would be executed.”

Now, obviously, the point here isn’t to equate Boehner with the Butcher of Baghdad. Rather, the point is, insecure leaders who get a little paranoid — or maybe more than a little — start wondering who they can really trust.

In Congress, Boehner may be the Speaker, but he doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he’s all too aware of the fissures that separate him from the “Young Guns” triumvirate of Eric Cantor (Majority Leader), Kevin McCarthy (Majority Whip), and Paul Ryan (Budget Committee chairman).

It’s apparently left Boehner with some, shall we say, trust issues. It’s not exactly the mark of a confident, secure caucus leader.