There’s plenty of swirling commentary out there about the various scenarios for the Republican effort to pitch a hissy fit over the president’s executive action on immigration–and various other Obama Outrages, like his insane determination to implement the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a slap in the face to all Americans–without blowing themselves up. All sorts of formal and informal deadlines for figuring it all out are in the air.

But in the midst of a big Politico thumb-sucker on the lame-duck session appears the deadline that probably matters most:

For Boehner, the politics are particularly dicey. On Jan. 3, he will stand for reelection as speaker. If he loses any more than 26 GOP votes, he’ll lose the speakership. There is no immediate threat to his power, but Boehner must move cautiously during this upcoming session in order to limit conservative opposition to his speakership.

I don’t really understand the “no immediate threat to his power” phrase, since you can almost certainly find 27 House Republicans who would instantly take away Boehner’s gavel if they could get their act together, and if he provides the necessary provocation by refusing to let them shut down (at least) portions of the federal government. I’d say the odds of him coming at least to the very brink of political extinction are quite high–or at least high enough to drive him to a chain-smoking evening culminating in public tears.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.