- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A rough two-month stretch has left Speaker John A. Boehner facing a nascent rebellion within his party ahead of a vote on whether he will continue to lead the House when the 113th Congress convenes Thursday.

No challenger had stepped forward as of Wednesday evening, and multiple lawmakers attending an evening conference meeting said there had been no rumblings of discontent within Republican ranks. But the growing complaints signal a rocky road for the Ohio Republican in the months ahead as he tries to negotiate on debt and spending fights that are likely to dominate the next two years.

The speakership vote will be the most dramatic in recent memory and will dominate the opening day of the 113th Congress, as Republicans retain a slimmed-down majority in the House and Democrats expand their majority in the Senate. In addition to spending, Congress is expected to debate immigration, gun control and broad tax reform.

Republicans enter the session trying to regroup after a particularly brutal two weeks for Mr. Boehner, whose party killed his “Plan B” solution to the “fiscal cliff.” He then had to turn to Democrats to pass the deal worked out by the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Nearly two-thirds of House Republicans voted against the deal, and some said it was a betrayal of conservative principles even to allow it to come up for a vote.

Congressman Boehner signed our country on to a fiscal suicide pact,” said one incoming congressman, Rep.-elect Steve Stockman of Texas, who said it was one reason he will not vote for Mr. Boehner to be speaker. Mr. Stockman, a former lawmaker who is returning to Congress after a 16-year absence, did not say who his alternative would be.

Denying Mr. Boehner the speakership would require the defections of at least 17 House Republicans on Thursday, when Congress members are sworn in and vote on the next speaker. And one pressure group, American Majority Action, said late Wednesday that it thought enough Republicans were prepared to vote against Mr. Boehner to force him to resign.

However, such a group of renegade Republicans would have to vote consistently on ballot after ballot against the speaker until an alternative stepped forward, and there was no sign of that happening Wednesday evening.

Mr. Boehner met late Wednesday with other members of his conference to vote on House rules, and Rep. Phil Gingrey, a conservative Georgia Republican, said afterward that no one spoke out against the speaker during the gathering.

“There was no discontent in that meeting,” he told reporters about rumors of Republican challenge to Mr. Boehner’s speakership. “I’ve heard bits and pieces of that, but if there’s something going on, I’m not a part of it.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and the man many thought might challenge Mr. Boehner, is backing him, said a Cantor aide who noted that Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor walked into a Republican conference meeting together as a sign of solidarity.

But both Mr. Cantor and another top lieutenant, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, voted against this week’s cliff deal, while Mr. Boehner and new House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted for it.

The vote, coupled with the failure of his Plan B, left Mr. Boehner wounded. Still, he is well-liked within the Republican caucus, and many rank-and-file lawmakers who voted against the cliff deal said it was no reflection on the speaker.

“Speaker Boehner and our leadership deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they have done in our efforts to solve the problem and avert the fiscal cliff,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican. “Unfortunately, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have shown no willingness to address the real root of the problem — Washington’s out-of-control spending.”

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, appeared perfectly comfortable Wednesday evening with the idea that Mr. Boehner would keep his spot.

“I don’t sense much in the way of organized opposition,” he said. “There will be plenty of conservatives supporting the speaker. It won’t be that kind of split.”

Mr. Cole pointed out that it was Mr. Boehner who was at the party’s helm when it took control of the chamber in 2010 and maintained that majority in the 2012 elections. “I think the reserve of good will for him is very, very deep,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Cole said the speaker was not asking members for their votes during it — which would have been a possible sign of insecurity or fear of rebellion — and added that he’d be “shocked” if a “significant number” of Republicans didn’t vote for Mr. Boehner.

“This is a very diverse conference — a lot of strong opinions and a lot of principled people, and so there’s going to be differences from time to time. But John Boehner manages it exceptionally well, and I just don’t sense a large-scale dissatisfaction with his leadership,” he said.

Still, Mr. Boehner felt more wrath from some in his party after he sent lawmakers home Wednesday without passing an emergency spending bill for Superstorm Sandy relief.

Republicans from New York and New Jersey blasted him for the move, and one, Rep. Peter T. King, even told wealthy New York donors not to contribute to the party.

Rep. Michael G. Grimm, who represents the hard-hit area of Staten Island, voted for the cliff deal Tuesday and praised Mr. Boehner for his leadership immediately after the vote.

But by Wednesday morning, when it was clear that a vote for Sandy aid would not come up, Mr. Grimm laced into the speaker in a floor speech and considered not voting for him Thursday.

After a meeting Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor said passing Sandy spending would be a top priority for the new Congress, and the lawmakers from the Northeast said Mr. Boehner would retain their support.

Mr. Boehner also took heat after several conservatives were booted from their committee assignments ahead of the new Congress.

Leadership aides said the men were ousted because they weren’t team players, but the lawmakers and outside pressure groups said it seemed they were being punished for their conservative voting records.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican and one of the members who lost a committee spot, was coy when asked whether he would vote for Mr. Boehner for speaker.

“We’ll find out tomorrow,” he said Wednesday evening as he ducked back into the conference meeting.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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