The Tea Party wants to fire John Boehner over the debt ceiling vote

The speaker of the House's decision to not endanger the global economy has some conservatives enraged

By Elias Isquith

Published February 12, 2014 5:18PM (EST)

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to lift the debt ceiling. The bill was "clean," meaning there were no other policy demands or requirements tied to the lift, just as President Obama and other Democrats have always insisted. The decision to pass a "clean" debt ceiling hike was made by House Speaker John Boehner after Republicans in the House repeatedly failed to coalesce around tying the debt ceiling lift to any single policy demand. The bill passed with overwhelmingly Democratic votes.

According to the Washington Post, Boehner was surprised and irritated when he found out his fellow Republicans were unhappy with his decision. “I’m getting this monkey off your back and you’re not going to even clap?” he reportedly said while half-kiddingly "scowling" toward some of his more rambunctious Tea Party-aligned members. But if Boehner hoped to be applauded for his pragmatism, the hours following his decision have shown that, on the Tea Party right at least, the response has been quite the opposite.

Both in the right-wing media and in conservative activist circles, Boehner's decision has led to demands that he be replaced by a true conservative. As the Daily Caller reports, the charge is being led by the usual suspects of the Tea Party movement:

[T]he attacks began before the vote even took place, as soon as it was known that Boehner would bring a no-strings-attached debt ceiling hike to the floor.

“A clean debt ceiling is a complete capitulation on the Speaker’s part and demonstrates that he has lost the ability to lead the House of Representatives, let alone his own party. Speaker Boehner has failed in his duty to represent the people and as a result, it is time for him to go… Fire the Speaker,” said Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin in a statement before the vote. The statement linked to a petition to “Fire the Speaker,” and the group’s Twitter account has been tweeting since the vote asking people to call Boehner and tell him to “resign.”

Senate Conservatives Fund had a similar idea.

“John Boehner must be replaced as Speaker of the House,” reads a post on their website from before the vote.

“Instead of fighting for conservative principles, Speaker Boehner has completely surrendered to the Democrats,” the post reads, and the group launched its own petition to “Replace the Speaker.”

Club for Growth lampooned the idea, flagging it as a “key vote” for their rankings of how pro-growth members are.

“When we heard that House leadership was scheduling a clean debt ceiling increase, we thought it was a joke,” wrote Club for Growth Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Roth in an email to House offices before the vote. “But it’s not. Something is very wrong with House leadership, or with the Republican Party. This is not a bill that advocates of limited government should schedule or support.”

For America, another conservative group, also went after the House Republican leadership.

“Republicans have caved again!” reads a post on the group’s Facebook page. “They promised to fight Obama, but they’ve just announced they will raise the debt limit without any conditions … Yet another failure from the GOP and more proof it’s time to dump the leadership!”

The post is illustrated with a photo of Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Freedomworks’ Matt Kibbe dubbed the vote the “Boehner debt hike,” and marked it as a key vote in their score card for members as well.

“Governing with Democratic votes to raise the debt limit with no reforms attached is an all-time low for Speaker Boehner,” Kibbe said in a statement. “Based on reports, the Boehner debt hike spends money we don’t have to increase entitlement spending and grow the debt. In other words, with the money they spend today, they’ll come back and borrow to pay for tomorrow.”

The right-wing media, too, was outraged. In a post published on Wednesday night at RedState, Erick Erickson's right-wing group blog, Daniel Horowitz went off on a lengthy rant, accusing Republican leadership of treating rank-and-file conservatives "like fools." Horowitz, too, demanded Boehner's overthrow:

Republicans have now set a precedent in which the debt ceiling will now be something that must be avoided instead of something we can embrace.   With Obama’s record growth of the federal debt and his past statements against raising the debt ceiling, this is precisely the issue to bludgeon him with before an election. But, alas, that opportunity has been lost.  All of Boehner’s talk about “the Boehner Rule,” which called for dollar-for-dollar cuts, was lost the day he adopted Obama’s false talking point about default on debt.

What is even more disturbing about the vote to pass the debt ceiling is how many members lacked the courage to vote their convictions.  Isn’t it amazing how just enough Republicans voted for it in order for the bill to pass, allowing all but 28 members a free hall pass for their reelection?  Even pure liberal like Mike Simpson (R-ID) voted against it for the first time.  According to Roll Call, today’s debt ceiling vote had “the fewest number of votes from a majority on a bill that passed the House since at least 1991.”

So here is a direct challenge to all those free-riders who implemented their ‘hope yes, vote no’ policy today.  If you really oppose raising the debt ceiling and appreciate the long-term damage from Boehner’s policy, why not call for a new leadership election immediately?  There is no middle ground. If you really opposed this deal, it is simply egregious that the sitting Republican leader would pass it with Democrat support.  This is the seventh time Boehner has done so over the past year.  It only takes about 50 members to call for a leadership election.  Now is the time to put up or shut up.

Not every response from the right-wing media was quite so energetic, however.

National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry seemed rather resigned to the debt ceiling hike, writing, "I didn’t have high expectations for the debt-limit fight, but settling for absolutely nothing as a strategy is wholly a product of the divisions in the House Republican caucus. When the Democrats are united and you aren’t, you lose almost all leverage."

The Daily Caller's W. James Antle III, meanwhile, wrote more in sorrow than anger, evincing a certain amount of fatalism over the inability (or unwillingness) of D.C. Republicans to shrink the federal government:

Is the GOP the party of Obamacare repeal and limited government? Or is it the party of big farm bills and Medicare Part D?

In the past, the government-cutters have been most influential when the party was out of power. When Republicans win elections, big government is back in vogue.

Conservatives are tired of being told to wait for Republicans to hold the Senate, then the White House, then veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress. What’s next? The United Nations General Assembly? Must Republicans control outer space before spending can be cut?

Republicans are forever like the Inspector Gadget villain Dr. Claw, shaking their fists at government spending and shouting, “I’ll get you next time, Gadget — next time!”

As Roger Whittaker crooned in the old song, “Everybody talks about a new world in the morning / New world in the morning takes so long.”

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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