Revenge of the purgedThree back-bench martyrs of the Republican Conference sent a message back to their leaders yesterday: Payback’s a bear.
Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), all stripped of prized committee assignments earlier this month because of perceived sins against the party, did a three-amigos end zone dance as GOP leaders struggled and failed to get the votes for a tax-cut bill designed to empower Speaker John Boehner in negotiating the so-called fiscal cliff.
All three voted against a related spending-cut bill that narrowly passed earlier on Thursday.
Schweikert Tweeted that he would be a “no” vote on the tax measure.
And, after Boehner concluded he didn’t have the votes to move forward, Huelskamp issued a fiery press release accusing GOP leaders of trying to bully rank-and-file Republicans into voting for a bad bill.
“Republican leadership thought they could silence conservatives when they kicked us off our committees,” Huelskamp said. “I’m glad that enough of my colleagues refused to back down from the threats and intimidation, thus preventing the conference from abandoning our principles.”
The whole episode gave Boehner the feel of a substitute teacher who is accountable for what happens in the classroom but isn’t really in control of the kids. He’s already used the tools at his disposal to bring Huelskamp, Amash and Schweikert into line — and that didn’t work.
The leadership-driven Republican Steering Committee kicked the three lawmakers off of committees, a move that they interpreted as punishment for conservative voting records.
But Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), a conservative and a member of the Steering Committee, said the real reason was an “a-hole factor.” Another member of the Steering Committee, seeking to distinguish between these lawmakers and others who might be difficult to deal with, called them the “most egregious a-holes” in the Republican Conference.
The meaning: These guys didn’t just vote no — they went extra miles in working against the interests of the GOP.
The three freshmen didn’t cost Boehner his “Plan B” bill. But his sanctions didn’t work, and that could serve as a yellow light to other hell-no conservatives that they can flout leadership and not worry too much about the consequences. They have been bolstered by the anti-tax Club for Growth, which has been critical of GOP leadership for taking away the committee assignments and which urged members of the House to vote “no” on the tax bill.
One GOP lawmaker who was ready to vote for the Boehner plan said the Club’s decision to “score” the vote in its tally of member’s positions on key votes was a turning point in rallying conservatives against Plan B. At that point, the lawmaker said, the floodgates opened.
A conservative who is on the outs with Republican leaders contended that the failure of the Plan B bill represented “the beginning of the end” for the House GOP leadership team.
It wasn’t just that bill that had conservatives up in arms.
Amash led defectors in a vote against the annual defense authorization bill, which sets policy for the Pentagon. Republican insiders cited the way he opposed that bill as one of the reasons he lost an assignment to the Budget Committee. Amash used for his Facebook profile picture an image of the letters that stand for the defense bill, NDAA, crossed out. For weeks, he has encouraged others to stand with him in fighting against indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.
“I’m being attacked again for my stance on the NDAA—for standing up for our civil liberties and our Constitution,” he wrote on his Facebook page as part of a drive to petition his colleagues to vote “no” on the bill. “Can you support my efforts with a $10, $20, or $50 donation?”
Amash fell short. The House passed the defense bill, 315-107. But among the 30 Republicans who voted “no” were Huelskamp, Schweikert and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), who was stripped of his assignment to the Financial Services Committee but was spared the unkind label applied to the others by sources familiar with the Republican Steering Committee’s decision.
House leaders don’t have much of an operating margin now, and it will be slimmer come January when Democrats add seats. It seems clear now that they will also have to contend with four fellow Republicans who have little incentive to help them.