They love him because he's so sensitive!
This week Boehner had quite the jolt when former high ranking Ohio Republican Bob Ney's tell-all book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, was published. It paints Boehner as a drunken, womanizing, bribe-taking golfing fanatic with little interest in policy and lots of interests in how to extract cash from lobbyists-- exactly how Down With Tyranny has been painting him for the last six years. Ney retells the story of Boehner handing out Tobacco Industry bribery checks on the floor of the House and suggests that if the FBI were to examine who paid for Boehner's golfing addiction, the Speaker could be headed for the same prison Ney had served time in.
Perhaps worse, Boehner broke his word to Ney, the same way he just broke his word to Illinois teabagger Joe Walsh. He promised both Ney and Walsh that if they stepped aside-- if Ney would resign and, more recently, if Walsh would give up an easy win for a much tougher race-- he would take care of them. He's taken care of neither, which makes members of the GOP caucus wonder if he'll stand behind them when their own time of need calls for it.
And that's not the only reason Boehner is hitting the bottle extra hard this week. More than a few extremists in his caucus are out for his blood. Teabaggers like Paul Broun, Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman, Trey Radel, who believe they were elected to shut down the government and who embrace anarchy, chaos, race war, revolution, pain, suffering and whatever other nonsense they hear being touted on Hate Talk Radio-- and who count for their careers on human refuse like this in their safely gerrymandered blood-red districts-- are hopping mad because Boehner has let legislation come to the floor that passes with votes from all the Democrats plus a few dozen mainstream (non-Confederate) Republicans.
The Women Against Violence Act, which most Republicans opposed, passed with 87 GOP votes and makes the rest of them look bad in front of the lady voters back home. Last week, one of the most extreme and deranged teabaggers in Congress, Wisconsin senatorial wingnut Ron Johnson,threatened Boehner that if he keeps it up, he's out on his ass. Most of the House teabaggers, who could actualize Johnson's ranting, have reached the boiling point.
At a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia asked Boehner whether he planned to keep bringing forward bills that split the GOP conference.
Boehner told reporters after the meeting that the VAWA vote was an outlier and said he would like to abide by the Hastert rule.
“We tried everything we could to... get the differences in our conference resolved. And the fact is that we couldn’t resolve our differences. It was time to deal with this issue and we did,” the Ohio Republican said. “But it’s not a practice that I would expect to continue long term.”
...“If you start to rely on the minority to get the majority of your votes, then all of the sudden you’re not running the shop anymore. I think that’s what it comes down to,” Hastert said. “It worked for me. And I thought that was the best way to govern to make sure your people are on board on any major piece of legislation you’re trying to move through.”
Yesterday morning NPR tried tackling the issue and also uncovered problems for Boehner who is increasingly torn between what's right for America, and even what's right for his own party as a national entity, in contrast to what's "right" for a crackpot fringe that hold the whiphand over him and insist on bringing down the whole edifice of government. After the November election Boehner, unlike many Republicans in the House, acknowledged the voters had reelected President Obama.
"The American people have spoken," he said. "They've re-elected President Obama. And they've again re-elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives."
But last Thursday, when the House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Act, it did it without a majority of Republicans. Only 87 voted for the bill; 138 voted against it. The rest of the yes votes came from Democrats. The speaker brought a bill to the floor knowing it didn't have the support of the majority of his caucus, which upset conservatives such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.
"Many people in conference expressed their concern publicly and privately about that," he said. "So why would the Republican House pass a Democrat priority bill? I don't know. It was set up to pass that way. We weren't given advance notice it came out. And it's a real concern."
The Violence Against Women Act, a disaster-relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy and the "fiscal cliff" deal-- all three violated what's known as the Hastert rule: For a bill to be brought up for a vote in the House, it has to have the support of the majority of the majority.
"The 'majority of the majority rule' was more of a guideline for speakers in how to keep their jobs," says John Feehery, who was a spokesman for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, for whom the rule is named.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, mostly followed this rule. Boehner did, too, until recently. Feehery says Boehner made a cold, hard calculation and decided that letting these bills pass was best for the party.
"You know, it's not an easy decision, because you don't want to alienate a majority of your majority," says Feehery, now the president of QGA Public Affairs. "I mean, that's just kind of common sense. But there are also times where the majority of the majority may not like pieces of legislation but they are fine letting it go because they know it is better for them to allow things to pass."
New York Republican Rep. Peter King puts it this way: "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. It happened with the fiscal cliff. It happened with Sandy."
Why this happens isn't obvious just looking at the numbers. There are 232 Republicans in the House; 217 votes are needed to pass a bill. But a lot of Republicans don't vote the way the leadership wants them to.
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says these members are afraid of getting hit with a primary challenge.
"The good of the Republican Party as a whole is not something that necessarily resonates with a lot of individual members whose constituents back home don't feel the same way," he says.
As a result, Ornstein says, bills that can pass the Senate and be signed by the president often don't have the support of the majority of the majority in the House. Recently, rather than stopping these bills, Boehner brought them to the floor, knowing conservatives would vote no.
"They'll come urge me to vote their way, but they've never insisted I compromise my principles," says Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave. "And that's something I respect the speaker for."
But that good will has its limits, Ornstein says.
"There are only so many times you can do this without damaging your standing as speaker," he says. "And doing things that basically bring votes from more of the other side than your own erodes your authority after a while."
When asked whether the Violence Against Women Act vote was part of a trend, Boehner's answer seemed to be aimed at reassuring his occasionally restive conference.
"We tried everything we could to find, to get the differences in our conference resolved. And the fact is they couldn't resolve their differences," he said. "It was time to deal with this issue, and we did. But it's not a practice that I would expect to continue long term."
Maybe there's a new rule. The Boehner rule would be more pragmatic: something like only voting on bills that have the support of the majority of the majority-- when possible.