Boehner, 63, faces unvarnished hostility from some conservatives.
“We clearly can’t have a speaker operate well outside” what Republicans want to do, said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.
Huelskamp is one of four GOP lawmakers who lost prized committee assignments following previous clashes with party leaders. That punishment was an anomaly for Boehner, who is known more for friendly persuasion than arm-twisting.
He said Boehner’s job would depend on whether the speaker is “willing to sit and listen to Republicans first, or march off” and negotiate with Obama.
Conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said one of the tea party’s lasting impacts would be if Boehner struggled to retain his speakership due to the fight over the fiscal cliff, which is the combination of deep tax increases and spending cuts that start in early January without a bipartisan deal to avert them.
“If there’s a major defeat delivered here, it could make it tough on him,” King said. “He’s in a tough spot.”
Defenders say Boehner has been dealt a difficult hand. They say that in nearly two years as speaker, he’s been field general over an unruly GOP majority confronting a Democratic president and Senate, steering them to the best outcomes possible.
House Republicans won some spending cuts early on. But they were faulted by the public for nearly causing a federal default in a 2011 fight over extending the government’s debt limit, and lost a later battle over renewing a payroll tax cut.
This year, they’ve suffered in the polls for resisting the extension of wide-ranging tax cuts unless the wealthiest earners were included, which Obama opposes. They saw their House majority whittled by eight seats in last month’s elections.
“He’s doing a good job in a tough situation,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a Boehner friend. He said the speaker’s challenges include “independent individuals” among House Republicans and the increased willingness of outside conservatives to pressure GOP leaders, not defer to them.