Republican leaders on Tuesday infuriated conservatives by meting out punishment to a group of far-right GOP lawmakers who tried to oust House Speaker John Boehner.
Hours after 24 Republicans voted against Boehner, GOP leaders removed two members from a key committee. By late Tuesday, Reps. Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent, both of Florida, were stripped from the powerful House Rules Committee, which governs the legislative process, including amendments and changes to bills before they reach the House floor for debate.
Webster was one of three candidates who announced they were running against Boehner.
A former House speaker for the Florida Legislature, Webster received 12 votes. The other candidates, Ted Yoho, also of Florida, and Louie Gohmert, of Texas, received three and two votes each. Boehner won easily with 216 votes.
Boehner’s decision to punish Nugent and Webster has inflamed an already disgruntled conservative voting bloc, which warned that the move would further divide the Republican Conference.
“It’s outrageous,” Gohmert told the Washington Examiner. “I thought maybe we were actually going to be able to work together, but if people are going to be punished for representing their district, there is another big fight about to happen.”
Another longtime member who voted for Boehner but who has bucked the GOP leadership in the past said members should never be punished for the way they vote, and called the retribution “the clearest way to mutiny.”
Republican leadership would not confirm whether other Republicans who voted against Boehner would lose their committee assignments.
But GOP lawmakers told the Examiner that others could feel repercussions, including Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., who could lose his chairmanship of a Financial Services subcommittee.
“If that happens, all hell is going to break loose,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a conservative who voted for Boehner. “If the leaders feel the discontentment was contained with just 24 people, they are wrong. They are going to find that number grows exponentially.”
But the conservative faction has grown increasingly unpopular among the GOP rank and file, and many of them back the speaker’s move to oust Nugent and Webster from the Rules Committee, a panel considered to be an instrument of the speaker.
“It’s the speaker’s prerogative,” one longtime Republican lawmaker who asked not to be named told the Examiner. “You vote against the speaker and then expect to stay on the Rules Committee? It’s retribution to vote against the speaker.”
Another member said lawmakers are tired of cooperating on politically difficult votes while the conservative faction continues to thwart the leadership without repercussions.
“Those of us who do all the hard work, we’re tired of all of the BS,” a member who requested anonymity told the Examiner.
Boehner’s punishment dashes the hopes among conservatives that their coup attempt would give them more influence in the legislative process.
The GOP opposition to Boehner was nearly historic and would have come closer to succeeding if not for a dozen absent Democrats who were attending funeral services for former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
“The dissatisfaction with where we’ve been is so much wider and deeper than 24 people,” said Salmon, who voted for Boehner.
Salmon said that when he first talked to GOP leaders about the votes to oust Boehner, their response was “not one of arrogance, but one of humility.”
But the Republican leaders had been planning on potential punishment for days, according to House sources. They refrained from finalizing committee assignments for the 114th Congress so they could make changes if lawmakers voted against Boehner.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, praised both Nugent and Webster and said the 24 votes against Boehner show that the GOP leadership team has to work harder to unite the conference.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sessions said. “Our conference is going to find a way to get together and talk and heal itself. And it’s going to take some time.”