House Speaker John A. Boehner shrugged off an attempted conservative coup Wednesday, calling it “no big deal,” but the rebellion threatens to drown out Republicans’ message during Congress’ upcoming summer vacation and could stymy GOP plans for a big finish for 2015.
Mr. Boehner insisted that his job wasn’t in jeopardy, but he refused to test his support among rank-and-file Republicans by allowing a vote on the motion to oust him, or “vacate the chair,” that Rep. Mark Meadows unexpectedly sprang on fellow Republicans and GOP leaders a day before the House adjourned for a summer recess.
“Listen, this is one member,” Mr. Boehner said at his weekly press conference at the Capitol. “I’ve got broad support among my colleagues. And frankly, it isn’t even deserving of a vote.”
He dismissed the notion that Mr. Meadows, who is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus that has repeatedly clashed with the speaker this year, represented widespread dissatisfaction in the conference.
“You’ve got a member here and a member there who are off the reservation. No big deal,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Still, the decision to forgo a vote on the Meadows resolution left in doubt Mr. Boehner’s ability to put down the mutiny and raised questions about whether he can hold the Republican conference together for a series of tough votes before the end of the year.
“There have been a whole string of vindictive things that have come out of the speaker’s office. I think that there is an underestimation of the resentment that that has created,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.
He said the coup could gain momentum over the break. “We’ll see what the public has to say over the month of August,” he said.
When Congress returns, lawmakers will wrestle with the Iran nuclear deal, long-term funding for highway projects, an increase in the debt limit and a possible government shutdown when funding runs out Oct. 1, as well as other issues requiring delicate negotiations between the House and Senate.
On debt and spending issues, conservatives will be itching to take on President Obama and ready to break with GOP leadership who don’t want to tempt voter backlash over a government shutdown or a default.
The Republican Party’s conservative base remains deeply disappointed with its leadership on Capitol Hill, which manifested itself with Mr. Meadows’ attempted coup and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s charge that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “lied” about his dealmaking with Democrats.
In the resolution, Mr. Meadows says Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, “has endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent.”
He accused the speaker of limiting debate, pushing legislation to the brink to compel votes in a state of crisis and moving to “punish Members who vote according to their conscience” instead of how he wants.
The Meadows resolution says Mr. Boehner has caused the Congress to “atrophy,” making it “subservient” to the executive and judicial branches.
Conservative lawmakers have a long list of grievances against Mr. Boehner, including:
⦁ He forced through a bill that gave President Obama power to fast-track trade bills and will make it easier for the president to win approval of a major trade deal with Pacific Rim countries. Mr. Boehner retaliated against Republicans who bucked him on the bill, including Mr. Meadows, who was stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship.
⦁ He skipped a chance to defund Planned Parenthood.
⦁ The speaker refused to block funding from Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty in a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.
The Meadows resolution amounted to a no-confidence vote on Mr. Boehner. But it was filed as a regular resolution, giving the Republican leadership team control of whether to bring it up for a vote.
The decision not to deal with the resolution also threatened to spoil the August recess for Republicans, who had planned to spend the summer back home hammering the Iran nuclear deal, Planned Parenthood and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email scandal.
Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus, said the coup attempt had stepped on the GOP message and only succeeded in empowering House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
“It empowers Nancy Pelosi to exploit the situation,” he said.
Republicans suddenly found themselves bracing for questions about the coup and pressure from conservative groups to help oust Mr. Boehner.
“This is not the time to be divisive and counterproductive to our conference,” said Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, Georgia Republican. “It’s stupid.”
Mr. Boehner’s supporters said they were confident the speaker would have survived a recall vote, which would be a vote by the full House, including Democrats. But members of the Freedom Caucus said the vote would be close.
If all 188 Democrats voted to remove Mr. Boehner, it would take 30 Republicans for the mutiny to succeed.
The Freedom Caucus has about 38 members, and 35 Republicans broke with Mr. Boehner over the trade measure.
Mr. Boehner’s supporters said he likely denied a vote in order to spare his members from a difficult vote before heading home to face voters.
“He’s trying to not put some of his people in a bad spot,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and close ally of Mr. Boehner.
⦁ Thomas Howell Jr. contributed to this report.