House Speaker John Boehner may be on his way out, but the Tea Party is already moving to salt the Earth to ensure his brand of politics doesn’t return to the top post.
The far right wing of the party is using this Thursday’s various leadership elections to extract promises—in writing—from the next generation of party leaders in an attempt to ensure their priorities are not sidelined again.
The conservative Republican Study Committee, led by Rep. Bill Flores, is demanding the half dozen or so candidates vying to lead the party fill out surveys that put in stone their positions on issues ranging from Obamacare (spoiler: they all oppose it) to how they plan to run the People’s House (spoiler: “Not like Boehner” will be the resounding theme).
Flores, however, denies the conservative group is holding the party’s future leaders ransom.
“Those are simple questions I mean that’s not a purity test, and I expect everybody to answer them honestly,” Flores said before adding that his members will remember this new pledge. “That’s what we’re going to hold them accountable to.”
On Wednesday the candidates for leadership posts will address the group at a ‘candidates forum’ and they’re expected to deliver the completed questionnaire to Flores by Monday afternoon so he can send them out to his members ahead of the in-person grilling.
As for the inter-party fight?
“It’s a big family and sometimes it has a fistfight,” Flores quipped with a telling smile as he walked back onto the House floor where leadership contestants were jockeying for support from the disparate factions of the Grand Ole Party.
While Flores denies his purity test is a purity test, other Republicans are less subtle.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), aka the man who unseated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, wants leaders to sign a contract.
“I’m going to support whoever puts their principles down on paper ahead of time and those principles have to be the big deal: Balance budget, no amnesty, get rid of Obamacare, and then all of the procedural rules to help run this House in order to achieve these objectives,” the Cantor slayer said.
Brat is a member of the tea-party-centric House Freedom Caucus. Moderates are demanding that the party’s rank and file members unanimously support the party picks to be speaker when they come before the full House for a vote.
But Brat said he would withhold his support from any candidate who fails to check off the boxes on his laundry list of conservative principles. If that means he loses a committee position for not supporting the winner, so be it.
That complicates things for the Republican Party. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA) is next in line to wield the speaker’s gavel, but his new, dark horse challenger, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT), is trying to syphon off McCarthy supporters by raising the specter that the tea party opposes McCarthy.
"[T]here's really a math problem,” Chaffetz said on Fox News Sunday. “You need 218 votes on the floor of the House. There's 246 Republicans that will vote, but there are nearly 50 people and a growing number that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor. He's going to fall short of the 218 votes on the floor of House."
Even a few decades ago, rank and file members of Congress had something to gain by going along with what the majority of the party agreed on. Not anymore. Renegade lawmakers now fundraise and gain cable TV fame by bucking their party establishment. The incentive system has been reversed: It now pays to be an ass.
The Freedom Caucus was the biggest thorn in Speaker Boehner’s side and it looks to be the biggest impediment to whoever his proceeds him.
Their defiance is angering the more moderate—though highly conservative—wing of the GOP.
“The members of the Freedom Caucus have set unrealistic expectations for House Republicans,” said a visibly angry freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). “They do it every time they speak to the media. They do it every time they return to their districts. When they have not succeeded in meeting those expectations they have decided to blame our leaders.”
Curbelo likens recent closed door party meetings to “therapy sessions.” He too opposes Obamacare, but he argues people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) mislead the party’s conservative base by over promising on repealing the controversial law because a Democrat with a veto pen is in the White House.
“It’s clear that some of our colleagues have over promised back home,” he said. “They come back, they realize they can’t deliver and blame it on our leadership. That’s just not fair.”
There’s also been some splintering in the Freedom Caucus. California Rep. Tom McClintock is one of the more conservative members of the House, but he recently left the tea party group in protest.
“I think their tactics were counterproductive to enacting conservative policy,” McClintock said. “Not only were they not advancing the conservative agenda, they have been an acting impediment to that agenda, unwittingly albeit, but an impediment none the less.”
McClintock was no fan of Speaker Boehner, but he accuses the Freedom Caucus of treating him unfairly. As for a potential Speaker McCarthy? McClintock sees hope because of the difference in their styles.
“I think that Kevin McCarthy has proven himself as Majority Leader. He will be a great Speaker because he is a great listener, which is one of John Boehner’s big failings,” McClintock said.
If you look at chatter in the Twitter-verse you see many Democratic voters and progressive activists celebrating the Republican on Republican violence that’s on full display at the Capitol. But some Democrats in Congress are cautioning against that response.
“I fear they foretell a lot of dysfunction as we move forward,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “[It] has implications for funding the government or not defaulting on the debt or trying to get long term investments streams like transportation, and no one, including this Democrat, can take pleasure in that.”