Could John Boehner Lose the House Speaker's Gavel?

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A conservative group wants to engineer his ouster. It's a long shot -- but not impossible.

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Reuters

Think Congress is dysfunctional during these fiscal-cliff negotiations? What if John Boehner can't even get enough House Republican votes next month to be reelected as speaker?

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But at least one conservative group says Boehner's hold on the speaker's gavel should not be viewed as a done deal. It is launching an all-out effort aimed at about 100 House Republicans to see if it can find at least 17 of them angry enough, and bold enough, to block Boehner's reelection when the new Congress commences on Jan. 3.

"With Boehner basically out there promoting a tax hike and removing conservatives from key committees, these are not good precedents for the next two years," Ned Ryun, whose father, Jim Ryun, was a representative for Kansas, complained to the National Journal on Thursday.

Ned Ryun is president and CEO of American Majority, a Virginia-based group that says it has trained thousands of conservative activists and also says that it embraces but predates the Tea Party movement. He is getting attention with a blog he posted on Wednesday -- not so much because he says Boehner should be fired as speaker, but because he says the conservative movement could actually accomplish that goal under House rules and that it does not have to be a "fairy-tale" wish.

Boehner, whose last two years as speaker already have been mired in grousing from conservative groups, is again being hit this week from the far right over his counteroffer in fiscal-cliff negotiations with the White House to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing special-interest loopholes and tax deductions. Some groups are casting this as his seeming openness to breaking a promise not to raise taxes.

Adding to that anger has been other news this week that the speaker and his House GOP steering committee had purged four conservatives from their coveted committee seats, at least three of whom have been butting heads with party leaders over government spending and the federal deficit. This just weeks after Boehner had pleaded for unity in a private conference call to fellow House Republicans on the day after the Nov. 6 election.

For this anger to result in Boehner losing his speaker's gavel, explained Ryun to National Journal on Thursday, enough conservative members need to show "some guts" and publicly rebel.

He says his group is looking at a list of about 100 conservatives whom they will try to persuade to step up, go public with their disappointment in Boehner, and show they are willing to take the risks and potential punishment Boehner has already shown he will dish out if such an effort fails.

In fact, there was already some murmuring within the House Republican conference itself about potential maneuvering in the upcoming speaker election as a way to express conservative discontent, say House GOP sources familiar with such talks.

But each of those who spoke -- all on the condition they not be identified -- also underscored that they've seen no concerted effort yet to organize anything beyond some conservatives saying they might simply vote "present" instead of specifically for Boehner. Even doing that would bring potential punishment from top leaders, because the votes are public.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel responded on Thursday by pointing out that the Ohio Republican last month "was honored to be selected by the House Republican Conference to be its candidate for speaker." In fact, there was only one other candidate nominated in that closed-door process. And the nomination by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, of former Speaker Newt Gingrich did not even receive a seconding. But there was no actual roll-call vote, and Boehner was selected by acclamation.

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Billy House

Bill House is a staff writer (Congress) for National Journal.

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