Not that it changed their votes. The group rebelled against a Boehner-led proposal for lifting the U.S. Treasury’s borrowing authority, leading to a less conservative alternative passed with Democratic help. The same scenario played out in December on a leadership-pushed “Plan B” alternative on a tax bill, ending with Boehner reading the “Serenity Prayer” to assembled lawmakers as leadership pulled the legislation from the floor. Less than two weeks later, a more liberal bill passed largely with Democratic votes.
LaTourette, the former congressman, said Boehner’s best moments occurred when Republicans were in the minority, particularly when they got unanimous opposition to Obama’s economic stimulus proposal and health-care law in 2009 and 2010.
“Those were good days, for his leadership and the Republican conference. And after that, the wheels started to come off a little bit,” LaTourette said.
He was among the Boehner circle of friends who pushed “to cut some heads off” the Republicans rebelling against him in 2011. Boehner rejected that counsel, suggesting that it would only make martyrs of them in the culture of conservative TV and talk radio, along with right-wing groups who stand ready to raise millions of dollars for the most ideologically pure Republicans.
After the 2012 election, four Republicans with rocky voting records and non-team-player images were ejected from key committees, a move widely seen as McCarthy’s doing. They instantly became heroes on the right.
“Their behavior hasn’t changed at all,” Tiberi said.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was a thorn in leadership’s side for years while in the House and soon after the 2010 midterm elections he received a plum seat on the House Appropriations Committee as a peace offering to conservatives. “That just would not have happened in previous administrations,” LaTourette said.
Making system work
Boehner cares more about the process of governance than any speaker since World War II, often telling private audiences that as his legacy he wants to be known as the speaker who made the system work again.
One of his political heroes is Nicholas Longworth, a Republican speaker from Ohio who served three terms beginning in 1925. Boehner cited Longworth when eliciting his goal for the model House: “quiet in its effectiveness, but unmistakable in its pride and purpose.”
“The oft-repeated phrase was, ‘You can’t help liking Nick,’ ” said Stacy A. Cordery, a professor at Monmouth College who has studied Longworth. She said Longworth, like Boehner, was known for defusing tensions with jokes and an after-work drink.
In his first days as speaker, however, Longworth cracked down on several Republicans who had broken party rank during the 1924 presidential election, demoting them to the lowest rung of their committees.
During Boehner’s Jan. 3 reelection as speaker, 16 House Republicans initially opposed him as part of a coup attempt. They fell short and four of them, including Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), gave in and voted for Boehner.
Six months later, none of those 16 have received any penalty for their actions. Garrett, a staunch conservative who also frequently bucked the Hastert-DeLay regime, said Boehner doesn’t fit “The Hammer” image that DeLay cultivated.
“You’re only as effective as your own personality and nature will warrant. His personality is not the ‘Hammer’ style,” Garrett said. “It would backfire on him if he were to become something that, deep inside, he knew was not himself.”