With a government shutdown looming — and potentially a debt ceiling showdown after that — John Boehner’s position as Speaker of the House may be on the line. A Republican Congressman from North Carolina has introduced a resolution to declare the Speaker’s chair vacant essentially as a warning to Boehner — “Cross us by ignoring us and making deals with the Democrats, and we’ll depose you.”
This is something that has never happened before. No sitting Speaker has been unseated in the middle of a Congressional term.
Russell Berman at The Atlantic looks at whether or not the Democrats would save Boehner’s Speakership. Traditionally, the opposition party votes for one of their members when the House is organized at the start of the term, but this would be an unusual situation without precedent. Could Boehner and Pelosi strike a deal — her caucus votes with a bloc of Republicans to save his Speakership, and in exchange the Democrats get something (or a few things)?
Berman splashes water on that idea: “The House of Representatives is not a coalition government — it is run by a majority party, which must be led by a speaker with the support of his (or her) members. If Democrats have to bail out Boehner this fall, he might hold on to his gavel, but he won’t have a majority of the House truly behind him.”
Except, Berman ignores the fact that the House of Representatives is already a coalition government, albeit one made up of two groups who nominally call themselves Republicans. You have the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus group (of which my representative, Rep. Scott Perry, is a member) who are philosophically opposed to government. And you have an old-guard who know that things need to get done. Boehner comes from the latter group. His deputies (Eric Cantor in the last Congress, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise in this Congress) come from the former.
The debate in the House isn’t between Republicans and Democrats. It’s between the two Republican factions. Boehner’s options have been to work within his coalition to move legislation (which has had disastrous consequences, such as the debt ceiling debacle) or to work with Democrats to move compromise legislation. He prefers doing the former as a way of satisfying the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus faction, even though the latter (a bipartisan consensus builder) would secure him what he wants — to be remembered in history as one of the great Speakers.
There are a number of Ifs ahead — If the motion to unseat moves forward, If a new Speaker election is held, If Boehner decides to attempt to save his position — and I’m not sure how it will end. On the one hand, Boehner wanted to be an historically significant Speaker, and I don’t think he would want to go down in history as the first Speaker to be unseated during his term. On the other hand, fighting for his position would undoubtedly unleash utter chaos in the House, to the point where it’s possible -nothing- would get done, so he may step aside for the good of the institution and the country.
While the focus of the political press and the public is on the Republican Presidential Clown Car, what will happen in the House over the next month will undoubtedly be more significant and consequential in the here and now.