The Washington Post

John Boehner is the linchpin to immigration and the debt ceiling. Here’s why.

There are two major legislative fights brewing on Capitol Hill this summer/fall. The first is focused on whether Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration bill. The second is how the House, Senate and White House will navigate the necessity of raising the debt ceiling.

The outcome of both fights can -- and should -- be understood by answering a single question: Does John A. Boehner want to be speaker of the House in January 2015?

House Speaker John Boehner

If he does, it's hard to imagine him working in any meaningful way with the Senate and especially with the White House on compromise deals on immigration and the debt ceiling -- given that a large contingent of conservatives already wary of Boehner (R-Ohio) will almost certainly oppose such deals.

If Boehner views the 113th Congress as his last, he will be looking more toward ways to cement a legacy as speaker -- and that could well include a grand bargain to solve the country's debt and spending issues as well as an immigration deal that could save his party's political bacon going forward.

"Debt ceiling/tax reform/entitlement reform deals are all major legacies for him," said one longtime Republican House insider. "Retirement may look more appealing if they come together, in some form of victory."

Boehner, for his part, insists that retirement is not an option.

"Every two years is a decision about just what you want to do, but I fully expect to remain speaker," Boehner told Bloomberg several weeks back. "Past 2014?" asked Bloomberg's Peter Cook. "I do," said Boehner.

And, as Boehner allies note, he has set a very aggressive fundraising pace for himself. "The speaker has spent nearly 100 days on the road this year, and transferred nearly $5 million to Republican members, candidates and the [National Republican Congressional Committee]," said one supporter.

All true. But, it seems hard to believe that Boehner is enjoying himself at the moment. As WaPo's Paul Kane detailed in a terrific piece on the divides within the House Republican conference on Tuesday, Boehner is, in many ways, a speaker in name only. (We are patenting the term "SINO" so don't even try it.) He has the responsibility of trying to lead a conference that has no interest in being led.

“Gone are the days when the leaders decide what the conference is gonna do,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) told Kane, a sentiment that reflects Boehner's predicament.

And, it's also worth noting that some of Boehner's best friends in Congress are moving on -- or thinking about it. "The retirement of [Georgia Sen.] Saxby Chambliss and near Senate run for [Iowa Rep.] Tom Latham indicates that the ‘old gang' may be breaking up," said a senior GOP House insider.

So, which path will Boehner take?

On immigration, his aides insist that the House will not simply take up the bill passed by the Senate (assuming the Senate passes a bill) and instead will pursue its own legislation and seek to iron out the details in a conference committee.

On the debt ceiling, there is far less clarity -- with even Republicans acknowledging that the list of concessions GOPers want out of the White House in exchange for raising the borrowing limit is long and unfocused at the moment. Whether that list can be whittled down, and whether what's left is enough to satisfy House conservatives, is very much an open question.

We believe that Boehner is planning to run for speaker in 2015 as of today. But, plans can and do change. (We planned to be an NBA superstar. Instead we are a blogger. 'Nuff said.)

Here's what is clear: It's hard to imagine Boehner winning a first-ballot election as speaker in early 2015 if he decides to allow votes on the House floor on either immigration or the budget that are opposed by a majority of the majority. And it's hard to imagine that Boehner wants to endure that torture -- even if he ultimately winds up winning on a second ballot.

"I think he is motivated in getting the job done, whether it is a big budget deal or immigration, and is willing to put his future on the line to do so," said former congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.) about Boehner. "But John is an experienced pro and understands the base well enough not to settle for just any deal that comes along."


President Obama will stump for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) next week.

First lady Michelle Obama confronted a protester at a fundraiser.

Republican Jason Smith won the special election in Missouri's 8th district.

As expected, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and state Sen. Barbara Buono (D) easily won their respective primaries against marginal competition.

New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) says Christie's special election decision could backfire.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the bipartisan immigration bill he helped craft does not have 60 votes at this point.

The first Massachusetts Senate debate is Wednesday night.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) will be neutral in his state's GOP Senate primary, even as his former chief of staff is running.


"McDonnell aides expressed concern about his role in event for Star Scientific" -- Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

"Conservative groups targeted by IRS testify that agency demanded they curtail activities" -- Juliet Eilperin. Washington Post



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Sean Sullivan · June 4, 2013

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