How conservatives ineptly plotted to oust John Boehner

Only 12 ultimately voted against him, despite the best efforts of a small group of conservatives

By Jillian Rayfield
January 4, 2013 10:28PM (UTC)
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Thursday's vote to reelect House Speaker John Boehner was made slightly more tense by a group of conservatives who attempted to oust him by voting for someone else, or not voting at all.

Leading up to the vote, Boehner had faced heavy criticism from his caucus for his handling of the "fiscal cliff" deal, which 151 Republicans voted against, and for adjourning the House without calling a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief aid. Conservatives needed to rally 17 members to vote for someone other than Boehner in order to force a second vote, but ultimately they came up short by five.


During the floor vote, a Politico photographer caught Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., with a list of potential defectors open on his iPad, titled: “You would be fired if this goes out."

From Politico:

Among the Republicans on the list were Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Steve Fincher (Tenn.) and Scott Desjarlais (Tenn.). All of them ultimately supported Boehner.

It’s not clear that any of the Republicans on Huelskamp’s list knew they were on it, or even knew of the list’s existence.

Ultimately, nine Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner. Allen West got two votes, for example, and Eric Cantor got three.


From Roll Call:

Cantor himself voted for Boehner and shook his head with displeasure when he was nominated. The rest of the leadership team sat beside him projecting the same irritation throughout the roll call, and beforehand, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California could be seen having heated conversations with a few members.

“There’s just some relationship issues,” said Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford of Oklahoma, who said he will go to work trying to reach out to the disaffected members.

As Josh Green from Bloomberg Businessweek reports, the group of conservatives behind the coup made a few other key mistakes, one being a failure to find a viable alternative to Boehner. A second was that they openly plotted his ouster in a D.C. bar. Green writes:

On Wednesday night, an amused Republican staffer called me to report that Representatives Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, Raul Labrador, and Steve Southerland were gathered at Bullfeathers, a Capitol Hill bar, openly plotting their coup. Not exactly the Roman Senate scheming to dispatch Caesar.

Rep. Trent Franks, Ariz., told Roll Call that the plan was a “ridiculous miscalculation on the part of sincere but completely inept” members “to do something I think was totally unjustified."

Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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Allen West Editor's Picks Eric Cantor House Republicans John Boehner Tim Huelskamp