House Republican leaders are cracking down on rebellious members after a near-disaster on a trade vote last week.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis, Steve Pearce, and Trent Franks have been removed from the whip team after they sided with GOP rebels to vote against a rule governing debate on a trade bill, according to sources close to the team.
Lummis, a deputy whip and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was perhaps the whip team's highest-ranking bridge to the conference's most intransigent members. Pearce and Franks also are very close to House conservatives.
But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said earlier in the year that he would not tolerate members voting against rules and already has removed two other members close to the conservative movement.
"In the beginning of the year," Scalise spokesman Chris Bond said, "Whip Scalise reaffirmed the long-standing policy, also held by his predecessors, that while whip team members are free to vote their conscience on underlying bills, they are expected to vote as a team on procedural matters such as last week's rule vote."
A Lummis spokesman suggested that his boss was taking the move in stride.
"Cynthia knew going into the rule vote last week that being a member of the whip team has certain parameters," Joe Spiering said. "She understands his decision and departs the Whip organization with nothing but the utmost respect for Mr. Scalise and his entire organization."
Franks said he has no hard feelings toward Scalise or leadership, and noted that "if I had been in their place, I might have done the same thing."
"It was one of the most conflicted votes I've had for a couple of years now, or more," Franks said. "This was a vote that I didn't want to make, and yet I felt like I was doing the right thing."
Pearce, for his part, said: "Not much has changed in the House. I came here to represent the people of the 2nd Congressional District of New Mexico. That means considering each vote on its merits and striving to do the right thing for them. Sometimes that demands casting hard votes, as I did last week. I always strive to vote on principle and that won't change."
The behind-the-scenes GOP infighting is playing out as Republicans place the blame on the failure to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance on President Obama and the House Democrats who abandoned him. But it makes clear that Republicans have their own problems, which are hampering their ability to legislate.
Those close to Speaker John Boehner have long pushed their leaders to drop the hammer on members who do not act as team players, a fight that has gone back to the beginning of the year, when two dozen members voted against Boehner for speaker.
But Boehner has by and large shied away from public displays of disunity, choosing instead to exact subtle retribution behind closed doors. Those members say they have found it harder to get their bills considered and have received less fundraising help from the party infrastructure.
Nevertheless, Boehner publicly noted the frustration Tuesday morning. "I'm not very happy about it," Boehner told reporters. "And I made it pretty clear to the members today I was not very happy. We're a team. And we've worked hard to get the majority, we've worked hard to stay in the majority, and I expect our team to act like a team. And I, frankly, made it pretty clear I wasn't very happy."
In a private meeting preceding the press conference, Boehner gave his conference a "stern talking-to" about getting with the team, because the alternative is putting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in charge, according to a member in the room.
But conservative members still are fuming that Boehner negotiated with Pelosi rather than acquiescing to demands from the Freedom Caucus, who wanted some assurances on the trade-bill process and others relating to an upcoming vote on the Export-Import Bank in exchange for their votes on Trade Promotion Authority.
"I think many of the people who voted against the rule felt it was inappropriate for our leadership to continue to negotiate with Democrats without negotiating with conservatives in the House," Rep. Raul Labrador said. "That's the failure of this leadership. ... They're not even aware of what's happening around them, and they need to be very careful about that."
But GOP leaders dispute that account. A leadership aide said leadership met and tried to work with members of the Freedom Caucus, but found their demands unworkable.
Members have pushed committee chairs to remove the disloyal members from subcommittee chairmanships as well. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with his chairmen and the topic came up, but as of yet, no members have been stripped of their gavels.
Several of the members who voted against the rule on Friday hold gavels, including Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Louie Gohmert, Mark Meadows, and John Fleming.
But leadership faced another tough trade vote Tuesday—on a rule that would give the House until July 30 to vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance—and did not want to anger too many members. Several conservatives said privately that they were considering voting against the rule, which governs debate on intelligence authorization, but which late last night was amended to include a punt on trade.
The rule ended up passing with six Republicans voting against it.
This article has been updated.