But unless Freedom Caucus members can recruit more than a few rank-and-file Republicans to join their coup, Boehner would need the support of only a dozen or so Democrats to stay in power. Even within a caucus that’s had its share of issues with Boehner, there’s a sentiment among some that a conservative-backed replacement would be even more difficult to work with. And with government funding and debt-ceiling deadlines fast approaching, many want to avoid further chaos that could disrupt the House’s business.
Still, others say they’d find it difficult to do anything to help a GOP leader stay in power, and allowing a bloody speakership fight to play out could do serious damage to the Republican brand. Some believe the solution is for Democrats to simply vote “present,” allowing Boehner’s majority within the GOP to stand on its own—without explicitly supporting him.
Pelosi’s office said she has not provided guidance to members on how to handle a potential vote, nor has she discussed it with her leadership team. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has also avoided saying how he plans to handle the issue. “Our strategy has been very deliberate to keep the eye on Republicans,” said a Democratic leadership aide, noting that a public discussion of Democrats’ tactics would make the story about them.
With no marching orders coming from leadership, there’s no clear consensus among Democrats about what they plan to do—other than enjoy the spectacle. “I’d like to sit and watch,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But will Democrats ultimately stop the efforts to topple Boehner, if only to avoid plunging the House into chaos? “Probably,” Grijalva conceded.
His counterpart atop the CPC, Rep. Keith Ellison, was less certain that Democrats will help Boehner. “We've yet to really formulate a clear strategy,” Ellison said. He dismissed the notion that Democrats want to keep Boehner around, saying that the speaker's easygoing demeanor only puts a “nice face” on radical policies. “What has Speaker Boehner ever done for the Democratic caucus?” Ellison asked. “What is our reason for standing in the way of [GOP infighting]? ... Who could be more difficult to work with? I don't think there's a worse alternative.”
Others were also reluctant to do anything that could help a GOP speaker. “How does a Democrat go home and say, 'I saved a Republican speakership'?” said Rep. Gerald Connolly. “That's going to be decided on the other side, not our side. How do I know whether the alternative is better or worse or for whom?”
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, took a similar tack. “We don't need to get in the way of an uprising within a Republican conference,” he said. “We don't need to get in the way. That's not our fight. We want it to play out; we're watching it with amusement.”