What the last 48 hours tell you about John Boehner’s political future

September 19, 2013

John Boehner ain't going anywhere. At least not any time soon.


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

That's the message that the House Speaker sent loudly and clearly with his actions over the last two days.

Consider:

* On Wednesday, after huddling with his fellow Republicans, Boehner announced that the House would pursue a vote later this week that would link keeping the government operating to defunding Obamacare-- and make it impossible for the Senate to strip the Obamacare provisions out of the legislation without sending it back to the House.

* On Thursday, Boehner used strong language to blast Obamacare and defend his conference's continued focus on robbing it of funds. "When it comes to the health care law, the debate in the House has been settled. Our position is very clear: The law is a train wreck,” Boehner said. “It must go.”

We've written before that whether Boehner would like to stick around as Speaker --assuming Republicans control the House in 2015 -- is an absolutely essential element of the coming fights over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling.

The theory goes like this: If Boehner has made up his mind to retire no matter what happens in the 2014 midterms, he is far more likely to let a bill on funding the government or on raising the debt ceiling pass with Democratic votes.  If he wants to stay on as Speaker, he will do everything he can to prove to cast-iron conservatives that he understands their concerns and will fight for them, holding the line as the government shutdown and debt ceiling deadlines approach.

With his legislative and rhetorical moves over the past 48 hours, it's clear that Boehner -- at least for the moment -- is pursuing the latter option, suggesting that he wants to at least preserve the possibility of returning as Speaker in the 114th Congress.

Now, it's always possible that Boehner is taking such a hardline stance purely as a negotiating tactic to convince the Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- as well as the White House that the House GOP won't back down on Obamacare.

But, if that's what Boehner is up to, he is playing a very dangerous political game. If, after the Senate strips the defunding Obamacare provision and sends the continuing resolution back to the House, Boehner is seen as cutting any last-minute deal to avoid a shutdown it would likely be a death blow to his reputation among cast-iron conservatives in the House.

Judging him by his most-recent actions, Boehner appears to have his mind firmly set on staying on as Speaker beyond the 2014 election -- or at the very least ensuring he has the choice when the time comes.  How he acts over these next six weeks may provide the definitive answer to questions about where John Boehner sees himself in two years time.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · September 19, 2013