Speaker John Boehner secured reelection as leader of the House on Tuesday, taking the helm of the largest Republican majority in a generation despite more than two dozen defections from disaffected members among his ranks.
The ranks of those members grew slowly on Monday and into Tuesday, but the lack of a serious alternate candidate or a concerted campaign against Boehner meant there were not enough members to depose the speaker. Ultimately, 25 Republicans present did not vote for Boehner, largely on the grounds that they did not consider him conservative enough or sufficiently aggressive in his dealings with President Obama.
It was the most defections against a sitting speaker since 1923, when Frederick Gillett needed nine ballots to secure reelection, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"It's a wake-up call for everybody," said Rep. Pete Sessions, a Boehner ally. "We need to be aware that we've got to do a better job, to effectively comunicate what we stand for and why we're here."
Within hours of the vote, retribution against some Boehner foes had already begun. Rep. Daniel Webster, who ran against Boehner for Speaker, and Rep. Rich Nugent, who backed Webster, found out Tuesday afternoon they had been stripped of their seats on the House Rules Committee. The Speaker has sole authority to appoint members of the panel.
Boehner got 216 votes out of the 408 members who were present. Had a full complement of members attended the vote, 29 members would have needed to vote against Boehner to throw the chamber into a chaotic second ballot. But several members of the New York delegation missed the vote so they could attend the funeral of their former governor, Mario Cuomo, who died last week. As a result, Boehner's margin for error swelled to well over 30, a bar too high for the ragtag group of conservatives and libertarian-leaning members looking for new leadership.
Rep. Louie Gohmert ran the most concerted campaign against Boehner, but received only a few votes, while Webster got a dozen. Others opted to vote for Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Ted Yoho, Trey Gowdy, or Jim Jordan. Even Sens. Rand Paul and Jeff Sessions got one vote apiece, and a Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper, voted for Colin Powell.
"Just remember, I know the alternatives. Unfortunately, the public doesn't," quipped Rep. Frank Lucas, who voted for Boehner.
Though Gohmert's campaign started late, in the final days and hours, Gohmert's whip operation was working to round up support. Gohmert supporters were even calling Texas Democratic offices asking them to support their delegation colleague for speaker, according to an aide.
Gohmert was nominated for speaker by Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who said, "This is not about Judge Gohmert, it is about establishing a strong check on the executive branch." Yoho was nominated by Rep. Thomas Massie, while Webster was nominated by Rep. Steve King.
Boehner, meanwhile, was formally nominated by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who praised him as "a man of great character and conviction" as well as "a reformer who works every day to make government more accountable to the people."
Boehner now turns to governing, and true to his style, will begin the Republican congressional majority preaching unity. Despite the urging of some allies, he has said he will not punish the members who voted against him.
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Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.