October 16, 2013
John Boehner EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
John Boehner EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Now that we’ve finally got a deal ironed out in the Senate, John Boehner will probably break the Hastert Rule and pass the Senate bill through the House with mostly Democratic support. The question now will be how House ultra-conservatives take the defeat.

Will they be chastened, having pistol-whipped the economy and their party’s reputation for no benefit whatsoever, or will they be newly flooded with incoherent rage? Jonathan Strong at National Review reports, a bit surprisingly, that Boehner is escaping blame:

“I would give him an ‘A.’ I think he’s done a very good job over the last few weeks,” says Representative Tom McClintock…So now that the fight has been lost, it’s not Boehner whom they blame, but the GOP’s moderates, who pushed to end the government shutdown earlier…

But they were clear that, despite rumors to the contrary, there is no movement afoot to unseat the speaker. “Absolutely no talk of anything along those lines. No talk,” former Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Jordan says.

John Boehner has been, almost certainly, the weakest Speaker of the House in American history. In ages past, Speakers used committee assignments, the pork barrel, control of the legislative process, and campaign dollars to keep their caucus in line; but House ultras don’t care about legislating or committees, and campaign money comes from elsewhere these days. It’s an open question whether someone else could do better, but personally I don’t think even Sam Rayburn could wrangle this pack of zealots.

So while Boehner has dodged a bullet for the moment, he’s by no means safe forever. Freedomworks is already muttering about Boehner’s impending breaking of the Hastert Rule. Comandante Erickson is already on the primary challenge warpath against Mitch McConnell and other unspecified Republicans who “refuse to fight.” And remember, the way Boehner saved his job was by shutting down the government and taking the nation to the very brink of default. Everyone knew from the very beginning we were going to end up here. This crisis could have been averted altogether if he had been willing to break the Hastert Rule weeks ago. But he had to let the ultras have their tantrum, or they would have sacked him. Bottom line: they could turn on Boehner in a second.

According to the House rules, essentially all you need is majority support for a motion getting rid of the Speaker. At that point they’d elect a Speaker pro tempore before a formal election for a new one. From there, God only knows. No Speaker has ever been deposed mid-term.

This would be such terrible tactics — who else could possibly get 218 votes out of this caucus?– that ordinarily I’d consider it completely out of the question. But the zealotry of House ultras is matched only by their buffoonish incompetence. They kinda-sorta tried to depose Boehner during the last Speaker election, and the execution was so bad that it would have shamed a high school student council.

So another attempt can’t be ruled out. Which means the next time the right demands a crisis, the incentives — at least for Boehner’s survival — will argue for him taking us right up to the brink again.