GOP leaders and much of the mainline party caucus that voted for a three-week continuing resolution Tuesday are fuming at the 54 conservative Republicans who voted no — and the right-wing activists who cheered them on.
Many saw the move by conservatives, galvanized by a closed-door speech by former GOP Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence, as a pointless protest vote that weakened House Speaker John Boehner’s hand in negotiations with top Democrats on spending cuts.
“It weakened Boehner. If he walked into [a meeting with Sen. Reid] and he said, ‘My party is unified and we are willing to go three more weeks and that’s it.’ Unity is a strength in this town and it shows how we’re not unified. So I do think there was a weakness on that,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican.
Meanwhile, conservatives are basking in the success of peeling off 54 votes in a head-to-head battle against their party’s leadership. They also say the “no” votes strengthen, rather than weaken, Boehner’s hand.
The vote “marked a turning point in the debate as a growing chorus of dissent has made clear that a full CR must be negotiated in the coming weeks,” said Heritage Action Chief Executive Michael Neeham.
The episode provoked furious anger from advocates for the party’s line, with GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy angrily confronting Pence in a members-only meeting before the vote.
One GOP aide unloaded on the conservatives, offering a more colorful view privately held by many other Republicans.
“These people aren’t thinking clearly. Their logic doesn’t pan out. They have NO plan. What concessions were they going to get if it failed? They were going to shut down the federal government over Planned Parenthood?” the source said, “It was totally reactionary. These people got elected to lead. Instead they got jerked around by the political equivalent of music critics. If these people knew anything about governing, they’d be in Congress, not lobbing bombs from the cheap seats and sending out fundraising emails.”
The aide offered contempt for Pence in particular. “Pence is running for governor, and has to get through a primary, so his position is about as genuine as a $10 Gucci hand bag on Sunset Boulevard.”
Kingston said the anger is directed as much at the outside activist groups as it is at the lawmakers who voted no.
“There’s frustration to the outside groups,” Kingston said. “It was this feeling that the outside groups were really ginning up the direct mail and the email campaigns and saying, ‘This guy’s not really one of us because he voted yes.’ Heritage Action has been a concern of people.”
Boehner, in a statement, said “It’s clear from today’s vote that the House shares the American people’s frustration with Washington Democrats’ failure to offer a credible long-term plan to cut spending.”
In the end, the 54 “no” votes were a decided minority. Just over 25 percent of members of the Republican Study Committee voted “no” with that group’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, and just under 25 percent of the freshman class voted “no.”
The argument that the votes weaken the GOP’s negotiating position is that, in securing a majority, Boehner was forced to rely on Democratic “yes” votes, potentially putting him at the mercy of their demands later. Also, such a high-profile break from the party’s leadership shows Boehner is not fully in control of his caucus, limiting his ability to negotiate confidently with Democrats.
“That’s where I think the speaker has a weaker hand. Having to pass it on Democrat votes,” Kingston said.
The Democratic National Committee gleefully sent email press releases bearing headlines about Boehner’s weakened hand.
Privately, the view is not unanimous. One liberal Democratic aide said he was surprised at the impotence of the Tea Party-backed rebellion.
“I think leadership is pushing them around right now,” the source said. “Who cares if they defect as long as it still passes?”
The argument by conservatives that the vote strengthened Boehner’s hand is that now, Boehner can tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama — if Obama decides to show up for the debate — his caucus won’t tolerate another short-term spending bill. The move puts a firm deadline on the end-game in the negotiations, forcing Reid to act, the rationale goes.
Chris Moody contributed to this report.