Pence’s little power play

PENCE’S LITTLE POWER PLAY…. We’re accustomed to congressional Republicans being pretty united on almost everything, but some fissures are starting to become apparent.

This week, for example, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) complained about “the extreme wing” of the Republican Party, which would prefer a government shutdown to a bipartisan compromise. He wasn’t the only one questioning his own party’s extremists and their budget tactics.

In an interesting move, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) argued this morning that the Republican leadership will “denounce” those who criticize the right-wing’s efforts.

“Look, I have no doubt that Speaker John Boehner and Republican Leader Eric Cantor and the rest of our leadership will privately, and if needs be, publicly denounce any effort to essentially bad mouth the intentions of Republicans that are simply fighting for fiscal responsibility,” Pence said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

Pence’s comment is essentially a power play to force GOP leadership into giving political cover to House conservatives, especially the Tea Party freshmen, who have clashed with establishment Republican lawmakers.

This offers the potential for entertainment. Remember, Boehner and House GOP leaders have a decision to make when it comes to how best to approach the budget negotiations — side with the radicals in their caucus, who wouldn’t even go along with a temporary extension shaped by the leaders of their own party, or reach a compromise that includes House Dems.

Pence, one of the highest-profile members of the right-wing contingent, seems to be trying to flex a little muscle here, saying that Boehner and Cantor “will … denounce” those who dare to criticize the hard-liners pushing for a shutdown.

And if they don’t, presumably Pence will feel inclined to denounce them.

Mike Pence recently ruled out a presidential campaign, but is there any chance he wants to be Speaker?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.