The 114th Congress will gavel into session on Tuesday, January 6th. One of the first formal actions the House of Representatives will take will be the elections for a new Speaker of the House. This is done via a roll call vote, following formal nominations from the floor from the Republican and Democratic House Conference Chairs. The Republicans nominate their choice, the Democrats nominate their choice. The majority party invariably wins the Speakership, and things move along from there, with selections for Party Leaders, Whips, Conference chairs and the like. In order to become Speaker, the candidate must garner 218 votes – no pluralities. If you want to see how it played out at the start of the 113th Congress, here’s a link to the Congressional Record  for January 4.
This is the first time that the new Congress is assembled, en masse, do to work. But what most people don’t realize or understand is that these elections are all pro-forma. The real decisions, with real races and multiple candidates (in some cases), took place months earlier. These Conference elections were done in private, no outsiders, and the ballots were all secret. John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise were all reelected without opposition.
Each year, the House Republican Conference adopts rules for the Conference to abide by. These include the methods by which the leadership positions will be filled. Here’s a link to the proposed rules  for the 114th Congress that were adopted on November 14, 2014. The elections for the House Republican Leadership were held on November 13 in the Conference and there were no surprises. The Conference meeting included all of the new members, who were in town for orientation and these meetings. The new members chose their Freshman Class representative, Congresswoman-elect Mimi Walters (R-CA), as well.
Here’s the press conference they held  after the leadership elections.
Keep in mind what I already wrote: nobody ran against Boehner.
Fast forward to this weekend, where we’ve already seen a number of people announce that they’re either “running for Speaker” or they intend to vote for someone other than the Speaker. First were Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jim Bridenstein (R-OK), who announced they wouldn’t vote for Boehner. Then Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) both announce over the weekend  that they’re going to throw their names out there as alternatives to Boehner for Speaker.
This is a joke. These guys aren’t actually running against Boehner, and they know they aren’t doing that. If they wanted to do that, they should have done it in November, when they could have put their names in contention, forced secret ballot elections in the Republican Conference, and actually had a chance of showing their colleagues that they were tired of Speaker Boehner and wanted new leadership. Did any of them do that?
Why? Well, I can only speculate, but here are a few likely reasons. First, those elections were held less than two weeks after Boehner’s Republican coalition just swept across the country and enlarged the House majority, and Republicans took back the Senate. There wasn’t a big hue and cry about Boehner’s leadership right then. In fact, he looked pretty good. Second, these conference meetings are private – no lobbyists, no outsiders, no press, just members. The scene from the Republican Club on Capitol Hill was funny that day, because all of us outsiders were all crowded in the Grille downstairs, waiting for the word on Committee Chairmenships and the like because only the members were in the room. No press coverage (other than the ubiquitous POLITICO or CQ coverage for those of us who pay for the privilege of getting info slightly faster than everybody else) on these elections took away most of the glamor – they were straight up internal elections, and there were no surprises. No press means that the types of guys who need controversy to garner press – the Ted Yohos of the world, in other words – wouldn’t make any headlines by saying they were going to vote against Boehner when he was running unopposed.
Fast forward to today, when Boehner’s brand has been tarnished, yet again, by him doing the right thing: getting the CRomnibus passed to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year (except for Homeland Security, so we can deal with the President’s immigration executive order in March) and averting a government shutdown. Considering that the only thing the last government shutdown did was give non-essential government workers a two week paid vacation, I can’t blame him for not shutting down the government again for no real reason.
So why are these folks, who know better, claiming they’re running for Speaker and they’re going to vote against Boehner?
Simple – they want press coverage. They’re getting it. They want their names in the news, and they want disaffected conservatives and libertarians to flock to them and give them money. It is the most base of political moves – taking a stand on a show vote where the outcome has been predetermined and trying to claim to be some kind of principled fighter for conservatism, liberty or what have you. It’s sad, really. And what’s even more sad about it is that so many people – especially Republican activists – are taking what’s happening at face value and thinking that these guys are doing good.
They aren’t. They’re pandering at best. In reality, they’re simply cowards who couldn’t put together an alternate candidacy to the Speaker when the real election was held, and they have nothing to lose. Gohmert is the most senior of these guys, but he’s destined to follow in the foot steps of another Texas Republican  who never rose above chairing a subcommittee in the House. The other guys are freshmen and sophomores with no seniority, who don’t expect to last in the House long enough to get any.
Don’t give these guys any credit or your donations. They don’t deserve them. If they truly believed what they were saying – that John Boehner doesn’t deserve to be Speaker – they had every opportunity to mount a real campaign for Speaker in November and they chose not to. What is happening now is pure political theater – the kind that so many Republican activists have told me time and again they are tired of.
If we really don’t want this kind of political theater, we need to stop rewarding it.
UPDATE – JANUARY 5
For those who don’t want to take my word for it, check out Congressman Morgan Griffith’s statement on the Speaker election here .
Here’s a preview: “…no candidate other than John Boehner stepped forward for the nomination at the Republican Conference meeting of November 13, 2014. Had a viable candidate sought the nomination at that meeting, I would have given serious consideration to supporting them due to my frustrations with the leadership style of John Boehner.”
“Further, no member nominated anyone else to serve as Speaker at that Republican Conference meeting. That meeting and its purpose was fully known well in advance, and it was attended by the vast majority of the members of the 114th Congress.”