By Deirdre Shesgreen, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - "Is Boehner finished as Speaker?" blared a headline at the top of the conservative Drudge Report website on Wednesday morning.
question got fresh traction after the Ohio Republican on Tuesday helped
ensure passage of a "fiscal cliff" deal reviled by a majority of his
GOP troops: There's more grumbling among conservatives about John
Boehner's leadership skills. There are new questions about whether
Boehner's top deputy has his eye on the speaker's chair. And
conservative reporters are writing breathless stories, like the one on Drudge, about a mini-plot to oust Boehner.
So what are the chances of a surprise coup Thursday?
"Zero," said Charles Stewart, a political scientist at MIT and expert on political leadership.
all the grousing and discontent, it's a virtual certainty that Boehner
will sail to re-election as speaker of the House on Thursday.
and others say it would be both logistically and politically tough to
defeat Boehner. For starters, no one has stepped up to challenge Boehner
in what will be a public vote on the House of Representatives floor.
Like other speakers, Boehner has used both carrots and sticks to woo
allies and punish rebels. And the band of conservatives who are unhappy
with him is relatively small, albeit very vocal.
"It's hard for me
to see an internal candidate who would challenge Boehner successfully,"
said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute, who said there was only an "outside chance" of a
surprise result Thursday.
The reason? "Most of the Republicans in
the House, even if they are upset with how he's handled things, like him
personally, owe him something because he's campaigned tirelessly for
many of them, and don't have a great alternative," Ornstein said.
experts say it's also a decent bet, barring a major scandal, that
Boehner will hold on to his gavel for the duration of the 113th Congress
- although his grip on it might seem pretty weak at times.
doesn't mean he hasn't taken a beating in recent weeks. He was slammed
last month for his so-called Plan B, a fall-back bill he floated in the
fiscal cliff talks to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a
year. And now he's being pilloried for allowing a vote on the Senate
fiscal cliff bill, which conservatives hated for its lack of spending
Those moves and others have opponents gunning for him - and hard.
capitulated last night," said Ron Meyer, a spokesman for American
Majority Action, a conservative activist group that is leading the
anti-Boehner charge. "I think he will be punished for his capitulation."
said he knows of a "serious plan" involving more than 20 House
Republican lawmakers to block Boehner's re-election Thursday. "There's
paper going around right now about how to get a secret ballot first and
then . . . what our options are after that," he said.
Can he name one or two people involved in this plot? "Absolutely not," he said. "They'd be destroyed."
also conceded that his preferred replacement candidates - he named Rep.
Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, among others - have given no hint of plans to
Still, Boehner opponents were gleeful about
remarks made in the wake of Tuesday's vote by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
Price reportedly told Breitbart, a conservative online news outlet, that
it was time for "red state leadership" in the House."Price's statement
is the first sign that the rift is spilling out into the public,"
Breitbart reported. "The statement will likely send shock waves through
the GOP caucus." And on Wednesday, Steve Stockman, a former member of
Congress who won back his old seat in November, said he would vote
against Boehner's re-election."This is not something I do lightly, but
out of bedrock conservative principle and a dire need to save this
nation from its current course," Stockman said in a statement. "We
cannot tolerate betrayal of conservative principle and economic
Asked for a response to Stockman's announcement and
other anti-Boehner rumblings, the Ohio Republican's spokesman, Michael
Steel, said simply: "Rep. Boehner expects to be elected speaker
And Boehner's many allies in the House GOP conference scoff at the talk of toppling Boehner.
Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, recently dismissed it as blather from "groups on
the outside who raise money (by) attacking Republicans." He said that
Boehner is "stronger than ever" and will have no trouble winning a new
And Stewart, the MIT historian, notes that no speaker in history has ever lost a House floor re-election vote.
strategy at this point is unlikely to work," he said. He noted that
Boehner already won re-election in a secret-ballot contest in early
November within the GOP conference.
"If you strike at the king,
you have to kill him," Stewart said. "He's already demonstrated a
willingness to remove people from committees when they're troublesome,
so you could see that happening again."
He was referring to
Boehner's move last month to strip four lawmakers from committee posts
after they regularly bucked the GOP leadership on key votes.
are in a position to do a lot of favors for people, and they hold a
consider amount of power," noted Ron Peters, a professor at the
University of Oklahoma and author of The American Speakership: The Office in Historical Perspective.
committee assignments to travel budgets, GOP leaders have plenty of
perks (and weapons) at their disposal. Perhaps most importantly, Peters
noted, "speaker's control access to the floor, and if you want to move
your own preferred legislation, you need to have the leadership behind
Boehner has also built up plenty of chits among his GOP
troops. He raised more than $25 million through his leadership PAC and
his regular campaign account in 2012, much of which he then doled out
to GOP candidates. He also crisscrossed the country, serving as the star
at fundraisers and campaign events for Republicans.
Given their clout, perhaps it's no wonder that House speakers rarely face a serious internal threat.
leader has to become a liability to the caucus," Peters said. "That was
the case with Jim Wright and that was the case with Newt Gingrich."
a congressman from Texas who served as speaker in the late 1980s,
resigned amid an ethics scandal. And Gingrich, the ex-Georgia
congressman who served as speaker in the 1990s, resigned in the face of a
challenge from then-Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., after the GOP suffered
steep election losses attributed in part to Gingrich's polarizing
Gingrich survived an attempted coup in 1997, when
other leading Republicans plotted to confront him and demand his
resignation. Boehner was reportedly involved in the effort, although he
has denied that. In any case, Gingrich heard about the plan and quashed
Peters said any similar plans to oust Boehner, now or later,
are "far-fetched." He may not look like the strongest House speaker, he
said, but "I assume he will remain speaker for the duration" of the