Boehner seen surviving as Republican reign begins in Congress

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2015 12:23 PM

By David Lawder and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker John Boehner is expected to fend off a challenge from some conservative Republicans on Tuesday as the party takes full control of Congress aiming to roll back President Barack Obama's immigration, energy and health care policies.

A group of about a dozen of the most conservative Republicans have pledged not to support Boehner for a third term as speaker, arguing that he has failed to fight hard enough against Obama's immigration and health care policies and has failed to cut spending enough.

Representative Justin Amash said on his Facebook page that the House needs "modern" leaders and should limit their terms.

"Speaker Boehner has given his best to our conference, and I thank him for his service. But it’s time for Republicans to change our leadership. This afternoon, I will vote for a new speaker," Amash wrote.

The conservative challenge to Boehner’s leadership may be just a preview of battles to come this year between Republican factions. If Boehner is re-elected speaker, his next big test will be crafting a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that satisfies conservatives' demands to stop Obama's immigration plan.

Boehner's opposition thus far looks about the same size as two years ago when Republicans were still smarting over tax hikes on the wealthy. But after major victories in November's elections, Republicans have their largest majority since 1947, so Boehner can now afford to lose 28 Republican votes and still win a majority of 218 needed to retain his post.

Representative Louie Gohmert, a Tea Party conservative and Republican outsider from Texas, has announced he is challenging Boehner for the job. But a more influential candidate who could command broad Republican support has not emerged, leaving many with no real alternative to Boehner.

'HELL NO' CAUCUS

A spokesman for Glenn Grothman, a newly-elected conservative from Wisconsin, said he would support Boehner but try to push his policies more to the right. Aides to Raul Labrador, who mounted an unsuccessful bid last year for the No. 2 House job of Majority Leader, declined to say how he will vote.

The conservatives opposing Boehner, sometimes referred to as the "hell no" caucus, are particularly angry about his handling of a $1.1 trillion spending bill in December. They say the 1,600-page measure was negotiated in secret and failed to deny funds to agencies responsible for implementing Obama's executive immigration order, which lifts the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Late on Monday, Republicans briefly discussed the possibility of attaching language to the DHS funding bill that would withhold any federal funds for the department's employees to implement Obama’s order, according to Representative John Fleming of Louisiana.

Such a move is likely to draw a veto from Obama, threatening operations of one of the most important federal agencies in the post-Sept. 11, 2011 era.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who assumes the Senate majority leader job on Tuesday and has been hoping to avoid any government shutdown fights this year, could temper such House legislation and force Boehner’s Republicans to compromise.

McConnell has influence over the House because the Senate will need to approve any legislation for it to win final passage.

But even some of the most conservative House members also were expressing the need to ease their hard-line stances.

"It might be that I end up voting for some things that are not clear victories but they are somewhat victories. But that's what the legislative process is about,” said Fleming, who helped orchestrate the 2013 federal government shutdown in a failed attempt to kill Obamacare.

Republicans still may not be able to achieve a full repeal of Obama's signature health care law, but they are expected to chip away at it by passing measures to ease requirements for employer health care coverage and repeal an excise tax on medical devices. On the energy front, the first major bill the Republican-controlled Senate intends to pass is approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline. [ID:nL1N0UL16C]

Another big test of McConnell’s leadership is likely to come by mid-year, when Congress will either have to raise the government’s borrowing authority or risk a credit default. The debt limit fight is always a hot-button issue for conservatives who oppose more borrowing.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Richard Cowan; Editing by Christian Plumb)