John Boehner Has the Hardest Job in Washington

My estimation of John Boehner has increased quite a bit of late, as I’ve come to appreciate the extreme difficulty of dealing with his own unruly caucus, and the conservative media and think tanks egging them on. Dig what happened during the storm last Wednesday:

House Republican leaders have a new problem. They can’t count on their members to support them on procedural votes.

Sixteen Republicans defected Wednesday in a vote on the rule governing consideration of a government-funding bill meant to prevent a government shutdown. The defections could have caused the rule to fail since most Democrats voted also voted against it…

Why would they do this? Because the leadership won’t let them stick in pointless, doomed-to-fail amendments defunding Obamacare:

Worse, from a leadership perspective, is that some Republicans say they plan on doing it again if they feel leaders are limiting them from offering controversial amendments on the floor…

Several conservatives switched their positions on the rule under pressure from interest groups that on Wednesday morning announced they intended to score votes on the rule.

Freedom Works, for example, was livid that GOP leaders refused to allow a floor vote on an amendment to defund the implementation of President Obama’s healthcare law.

This crop of House Republicans has about crippled the power of the Speakership. They have little sense of legislative tactics, let alone strategy—in fact, they seem barely interested in legislating at all. They don’t seem to care about committee assignments, they definitely aren’t interested in home-district pork, and with the new crop of SuperPACs (and loopy extremist billionaires) dumping tsunamis of money into politics, the leadership has little sway over campaign funds. In my understanding control over these things is what gave the Speakers of ages past their power, and without them it makes the caucus almost impossible to control.

This seems to be shifting the center of power in the House to the left, as Boehner has been forced to repeatedly seek Democratic support to pass compromise bills—who are then are in a position to extract concessions due to superior discipline. It’s a reminder that ideology isn’t everything—that tactics and mercenary considerations do matter.

In any case it’s quite the ironic result with what is still about the most conservative Republican caucus in history.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.