Can John Boehner survive as House Speaker after DHS debacle?

With just minutes to spare, Congress and President Obama passed a one-week spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. It was a big setback for Speaker John Boehner, who lost 52 fellow Republicans on the bill he had pushed.

Susan Walsh/AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. In a blow to Boehner's leadership, the House Friday night narrowly averted a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.

Being elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives by his Republican peers should have been the happy culmination of a long congressional career for Rep. John Boehner. Telling his story about rising from modest circumstances – the second of 12 children in a working-class Ohio family – to become a legislative leader and second in order of presidential succession frequently brought tears to his eyes.

But so far, at least, it’s largely been a slog through political swamps. He’s had to fight off not only Democrats but tea partiers and other members of his own party – including the 25 Republican House members who voted for somebody else as Speaker last month in what the Washington Post reported as “the largest rebellion by a party against its incumbent speaker since the Civil War.”

Late Friday night – literally at the 11th hour – Mr. Boehner faced another wall of opposition, into which he crashed.

The stunning House defeat of a three-week spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security exposed Boehner's weakness in the face of rebellious GOP conservatives – 52 of whom went against him.

It also demonstrated his need to rely on Democrats at critical moments as the minority party's agreement to a one-week spending bill helped the speaker get it over the finish line with only hours to spare before a threatened agency shutdown. President Barack Obama signed the bill shortly before midnight.

The Hill newspaper called Friday night’s vote “a humiliating defeat” for Boehner.

Friday night’s close call on DHS funding also highlights the rift between House and Senate – both controlled by the GOP as a result of last November’s elections.

“We should have never fought this battle,” Senator Mark S. Kirk, (R) of Illinois, told the New York Times. “In my view, in the long run, if you are blessed with the majority, you are blessed with the power to govern. If you’re going to govern, you have to act responsibly.”

“There’s nobody to blame but us now when it comes to the appropriations process,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, (R) of South Carolina. “If we can run the place more traditional, like a business, so to speak, I think we flourish. If we self-inflict on the budget, and the appropriations process, and we can’t get the government managed well, then I think we’re in trouble.”

Politically, can Boehner survive?

“Boehner’s allies are concerned after Friday’s setback that his critics inside the Republican Conference may try to oust him as speaker if – as expected – he puts a long-term DHS funding bill on the House floor next week,” Politico reports. “While Boehner shrugs off such speculation, close friends believe such a move is a real possibility.”

“There is a lot of speculation about this,” said a GOP lawmaker who is close with Boehner. “People are watching for this very, very closely.”

 CNN reports two senior House Republican sources warning of a serious concern among those close to the Speaker that if he allows a vote on a clean DHS funding bill – no tie to President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration – conservatives would make a motion to vacate the chair, a direct challenge to his job.

Republicans said they expected that next week the House would end up going along with the Senate’s bill funding Homeland Security through September without immigration changes, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

“I don’t think there’s any alternative,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, (R) of Pennsylvania. “When we’re at the end of next week, what do we do?”

More broadly, congressional analyst Chris Krueger of Guggenheim Securities told the newspaper, “The GOP has its largest House majority in over 70 years but that fact is misleading: a 28-seat majority is actually more like a 3-seat majority given that at least 25 Republicans cannot be counted on for the most important votes.”

Therein lies John Boehner’s dilemma. And the hinge on which the future of his speakership may hang.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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