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Did Steve Scalise Just Screw John Boehner On The DHS Vote?

Common wisdom has it that Republicans were taken by surprise, but were all Republicans surprised?

Friday night the House passed a seven-day extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security after House Republicans failed to pass their own proposal to fund DHS for three weeks while hashing out their differences with the Senate.

The failure of the three-week bill to pass is widely viewed as a huge failure of Republican leadership, and being reported as one where all of the leaders from John Boehner to Kevin McCarthy to Majority Whip Steve Scalise were caught by surprise.

Steve Scalise had one job and that was to make sure the votes were there to pass that 3-week resolution. They weren't.

The vote earlier earlier in the afternoon against the three-week measure was the latest and perhaps most stinging repudiation of Boehner and his leadership team, who have struggled repeatedly to corral rank-and-file Republicans against the backdrop of legislative crisis. The Ohio Republican has been caught between conservatives demanding that he use the DHS issue to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and avoiding a funding lapse of the anti-terrorism agency.

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One problem for leadership in the first vote had been that conservatives believed Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) would still lack a plan to fund DHS when money ran out in three weeks. The vote was a test for Scalise in particular, since he had run on his ability to persuade conservatives to support leadership’s priorities.

I know from following the activities of the Groundswell group during the Senate immigration debate that Scalise was their go-to guy for "conservative" initiatives, and this was back in the day when he was the chairman of the Republican Study Committee. Back then, he had the title but little power inside the House. That's all changed. That group has powerful people behind it, beginning with the spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and they really, really hate the idea of any Latino getting anything other than the boot.

So now we've got Scalise in the #3 leadership spot with all of the ultra-conservative tea party Representatives voting against the party leadership. If you parse the reports, it's not obvious that Scalise was working very hard to whip votes for their own proposal.


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Meanwhile, this is what Boehner faces when -- not if, but when -- he brings the clean Senate bill to the floor for a vote.

Boehner’s allies are concerned after Friday’s setback that his critics inside the Republican Conference may try to oust him as speaker if — as expected — he puts a long-term DHS funding bill on the House floor next week. While Boehner shrugs off such speculation, close friends believe such a move is a real possibility

“There is a lot of speculation about this,” said a GOP lawmaker who is close with Boehner. “People are watching for this very, very closely.”

Twenty-five Republicans voted against Boehner for speaker on the floor in early January, signaling his continued problems with his conservative hardliners. And Boehner’s allies believe that the earlier DHS debacle on Friday, when 52 Republicans voted against the three-week plan, was in part aimed at toppling the speaker.

One issue for Boehner’s GOP opponents — beyond his continued popularity with the vast majority of House Republicans — is who would succeed him. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would seem like a natural choice, but he is close to Boehner and would never seek to replace him. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has strong ties to many members, yet that may not necessarily translate for support for speaker.

I don't really care what they do to John Boehner. He's utterly incompetent as far as I can tell. When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, she had less Democrats and still managed to get the tough votes done. Boehner doesn't seem to have what it takes to do the hard work of governing.

However, I also believe this was completely intentional and coordinated between Scalise and the tea party contingent under his thumb. A review of the "no" votes dovetails nicely with recipients of donations from his leadership PAC, which tells me that there's a relationship and leverage Scalise could have used if he chose to.

When that clean bill to fund DHS is brought up next week, it will pass with all of the votes Democrats withheld Friday. The same 50 or so tea party types will toss a hissy fit and moan about "amnesty" etc, but Boehner will be forced to finish this drama with the help of House Democrats.

That's how it should work anyway, but it will not happen because of anything Scalise did or didn't do. Watch for him to make a move at some point, but it won't be toward John Boehner.

Also, Scalise will be making an appearance on "Fox News Sunday", where it's likely he'll be less shocked about the failure of the vote on the three-week funding deal than anyone thinks he will.

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