Boehner’s South Carolina problem

at 11:38 AM ET, 07/29/2011


Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is one of five South Carolina Republicans who refused to support Boehner’s plan. (Melina Mara - THE WASHINGTON POST)
As House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) twisted arms yesterday evening in hopes of getting his debt ceiling plan through the House, one state stood firmly against him. South Carolina’s five House Republicans (along with its one Democrat, Rep. James Clyburn) announced their plans to vote no. Three lawmakers were so rattled by the pressure that they prayed on it — but their minds didn’t change.

“I was a lean no. Now I'm a no,” freshman Rep. Tim Scott said with a grin as he left the House chapel on Thursday evening.

So what makes South Carolina special? A few things. Some of these factors exist in other states, but in South Carolina a perfect storm has converged to spark a revolt against the House speaker on the debt from all five House Republicans.

* The freshman factor: Four of the five South Carolina Republicans are new to Congress this year: Jeff Duncan , Trey Gowdy , Mick Mulvaney , and Scott. ( Joe Wilson is on his sixth term). While some House freshmen have been trying to dispel the notion that the new class is anti-Boehner, freshmen are statistically more likely to vote against the plan. The South Carolina Republicans are unusually conservative even among the 2010 freshmen class, and they are also have an particularly tight bond.

* The Graham/DeMint factor: South Carolina GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint have both come out against the Boehner plan. Given the problems Graham has had with his right flank (read: the tea party), it’s hard for a conservative congressman to appear more moderate than the senator.

DeMint, on the other hand, is a conservative hero who helped get the the four South Carolina freshmen elected last fall. He’s mentored them on the Hill and none of them wants to lose his support. In his new book, DeMint wrote that former Rep. Bob Inglis, an early ally, deserved to lose his primary to Gowdy last fall because he’d strayed from his conservative principles. None of the freshmen want to be the next Inglis.

* Safe seats: All five South Carolina Republicans are in comfortably red districts, and they are expected to stay that way under redrawn lines following redistricting. None of the lawmakers are planning to retire. The only election they need to be concerned about is a primary challenge from the right rather than appearing too conservative in a general election.

* The tea party: The tea party movement is particularly strong in South Carolina. While only three of the five lawmakers are officially in the House Tea Party Caucus, all of them are associated with the movement. “You’ve got four new congresmen, all of whom have kind of enjoyed the support of what is a somewhat frustrated and angry electorate,” said longtime South Carolina strategist Chip Felkel. “It’s indicative of a shift in the elecorate.”

Under pressure from Boehner, the members pointed to the fate of J. Gresham Barrett as a warning sign. The former South Carolina House member was considered a promising 2010 gubernatorial candidate — until he backed the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2008. Conservatives turned on him. He was booed off the stge at a 2009 tea party rally. Now-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) won the GOP nomination.

In Thursday night’s negotiations over the debt bill, the House GOP leadership reportedly threatened to stop a labor-relations bill critical to efforts to bring a Boeing plant to South Carolina. Obviously, that threat didn’t work to win over the opposing Republicans. Now the Boehner bill is being revised, and Gowdy says he’s optimistic that a bill will pass on Friday. The South Carolina ‘no’ caucus has started to fracture over the more conservative proposal — but not before showing its clout.

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