John Boehner Shouldn’t Pack His Bags Just Yet

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 20, 2015 · 9:26 AM EDT

Speaker John Boehner plans to leave Congress at the end of October, but Republican infighting threatens to keep him around longer, particularly if Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan declines a run to replace him.

According to a source with knowledge of his remarks, Boehner told the House Republican conference on Oct. 9, the final day before the week-long recess, that “stepping down before we elect a new speaker would hurt the institution.”

“So, as I’ve said before, I will continue to serve as speaker until we elect a new one,” Boehner said.

With Republicans set to hold a conference meeting Tuesday night, Ryan is consistently described as the House GOP’s best choice to be the next speaker. While he is the most electable, that doesn’t mean he is the best candidate to do the job.

As Roll Call’s David Hawkings wrote, Ryan would be just the second speaker in nearly a century who hadn’t previously held a top leadership position.

To put it another way, getting elected speaker might be the easiest part of the job for Ryan (or anyone else).

But if a week at home reinforced Ryan’s reluctance to take the job, there is the distinct possibility Republicans will blow past Boehner’s self-imposed deadline and the Ohio Republican will have to stick around longer than he wanted.

Whether it is because of the ban on earmarks (which took away previously key incentives to keep members in line), aggressive redistricting (which allegedly increased the number of uncompromising conservative members), false expectations about GOP majorities, or a combination of all three, the House Republican Conference is nearing a standstill on the Hill.

Or, as one GOP consultant explained, it is a standoff between Republican factions that could end in mutual destruction.

“Until you get assurances from Freedom Caucus types that they will let you run the House and they will back you up on the floor whenever you need 218, this is not a job anyone wants,” said the consultant, who asked not to be identified. “The HFC crowd wants assurances they always get their way. Any potential speaker wants assurances they will always have your support. Until the standoff is resolved, the next speaker is temporary.”

While it might sound strange, many members of the Freedom Caucus say they value changes to the legislative process and inner-workings of the conference over electing the most conservative speaker.

“Finally, conservatives have come together as a bloc and will have influence, instead of being marginalized and punished for doing what we believe to be the right things and fulfilling the promises to our constituents,” one Freedom Caucus member said on the condition of anonymity.

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s removal from the Agriculture Committee and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum’s exclusion from the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriot Program for vulnerable incumbents are also sensitive subjects with fellow Freedom Caucus members, regardless of the legitimacy of those complaints.

“Leadership has seemed so preoccupied with maintaining the majority, that winning or stopping the Obama agenda seems to have been completely lost,” the HFC member said. “Our leadership messages for change to build a bigger majority, but change never happens.”

While some establishment Republicans are upset at individuals and groups they believe are trying to stir up and cash in on the anti-establishment sentiment, that doesn’t mean the anti-establishment anger is completely manufactured. The current presidential polls that have political outsiders such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the lead are good examples of a simmering disconnect between Republican leaders and the party base.

Republicans could pursue a veto strategy to appease the base — repeatedly send bills to President Barack Obama’s desk, even if they know he will veto them. But Republicans can’t even get that done because the House conference can’t agree with itself and most of such legislation isn’t likely to get through the Senate.

Part of the GOP base is tired of hearing excuses. After nearly seven years of a Democratic president, five years of a House majority and less than a year of a Senate majority, a portion of the Republican base has shifted from blaming Obama for a dysfunctional government to pointing a finger at Republican leaders in Washington.

“The base will no longer tolerate ‘we can’t.’ It’s not sustainable,” the GOP consultant said. “Getting rid of the filibuster is worth the long-term risk.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formed a task force on the filibuster, even though Republicans could suffer the consequences when their party slips into the minority.

If Ryan declines to run, there is no obvious or likely path for Republicans. Multiple GOP sources — on both ends of the party spectrum — mentioned separately to Roll Call the idea of representatives from the various factions getting together in a room with lists of acceptable candidates to see if any names overlap.

If the fight for speaker extends beyond October, the presidential contenders will have a prime-time opportunity to voice their own opinion during the next GOP debate in Colorado on Oct. 28, the day before Boehner had originally planned to leave.