House GOP Group Forces Boehner To Choose Sides

A GOP group in the House is behind an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act through the process of keeping the federal government funded. Speaker John Boehner may have to choose whether to stand by them and force a government shutdown, or makes a deal with Democrats to avert it. Steve Inskeep talks to former Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette for insight into Boehner's dilemma.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And Senator Cruz spoke against Obamacare all night in the Senate, but can't actually prevent a Senate vote. The Senate is considered likely to approve a bill that funds the government including the Affordable Care Act.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

But that does not end the story, because the House passed a bill that defunds Obamacare. It would be up to Democrats to find some agreement with House Speaker John Boehner that avoids a government shutdown.

Now, Speaker Boehner was criticized for letting a small group of conservatives push him into the situation, passing a bill that he himself was said to consider unwise. But a former colleague of Boehner's, Steve LaTourette of Ohio, says the speaker's critics have been too harsh.

STEVE LATOURETTE: First of all, he's a skilled legislator who cares deeply about the process, and he is attempting to manage a wheelbarrow of frogs who, you know, every time he thinks he's going down the garden path, a couple of them jump out. I don't know of any human being that would have the ability to lead this bunch. You're dealing with some people who just don't want to be led. But at the end of the day, he is the leader of the Republican conference, and as long as he is in that position, he does sort of have an obligation to follow the will of the conference.

INSKEEP: You say he's got to follow the will of the conference. Is this actually the will of the majority of Republicans in the House, to have this fight, even though the odds seem very long against it?

LATOURETTE: No, I don't think so. But what's happened is since the 2010 election you have had this sort of rump group of 20 - sometimes it grows to 40, and when it's really a big issue it'll go up to 60 - that have kept the speaker from getting 218 votes in his own conference. And really, you know, the power of the majority is, when you can muster 218 votes, you get to call the tune. When they deny him those 218 votes, they can really bring things to its knees.

INSKEEP: Why is it so important that he pass measures solely with Republican votes, and if he can't do that, it's so important that he's willing to completely reverse course?

LATOURETTE: Well, I think to his credit on the fiscal cliff deal, he did in fact violate this so-called Hastert rule that you have to have only Republican votes. So he's shown that he's not afraid to do it. But the pushback was pretty significant and I think that they've sent a signal that, hey, you're on a pretty short leash. And so he does have to sort of pick and choose his fights. I think if you tied him down and said, so what do you think, I think he thinks this is a stupid idea, what's currently going on, and I would bet he's now focused on what's next. Because one of the problems with these folks is they criticize Plan B but they really don't have a Plan C. I'm sure he's now focused on framing a way to get out of this mess when it comes back from the Senate later this week.

INSKEEP: I think I understood you to suggest that if Boehner doesn't give in somewhat to the more extreme voices, that he could lose his job. Is that what you're suggesting?

LATOURETTE: Oh, absolutely. Look at opening day of this Congress. To have an orchestrated attempt with a guy sitting on the floor with his computer and a whip list trying to get enough people to deny John Boehner the speakership, that hasn't abated. And I have no doubt in my mind that if this thing goes south or if somebody determines that Boehner was squishy on this, they'll move against him.

INSKEEP: Do you think in the end Boehner will have to rely on Democratic votes for whatever he gets through the House?

LATOURETTE: Yes. There will be enough Republican defections to deny him 218 Republican votes. When he did this at the end of the last Congress on the fiscal cliff, those folks that voted no on the fiscal cliff deal were praying that it got 218 votes but they could still go home and puff out their chests and say I didn't vote for it. I stood up, you know. But again, that's how stuff gets done. It's not pretty. But that's how stuff gets done. And so what you did have - and this, again, goes back to the age-old whipping process - you had Republicans who said if you need me, I'll vote for it. The difference with this bunch is that there's a bigger bunch that are saying I don't care if you need me or not. I'm not going to be part of the go-along-to-get-along team, and so don't even come bother me again.

INSKEEP: Is Speaker Boehner in effect one of those "if you need me, I'll be there" people right now? He's saying I'll figure out a deal if I can if it's absolutely essential, but up to that point I have to stand with the guys that I deem to be unreasonable.

LATOURETTE: Well, listen, he has to deliver the message that the conference asks him to deliver. But at the end of the day, I'm going to tell you, John Boehner loves this country, he loves the government, he loves the House of Representatives, and I have no doubt at the bottom of his heart he doesn't think a government shutdown is a good idea and he doesn't think defaulting on our debts and obligations is a good idea. And he will use every tool in his toolbox to prevent that from happening.

INSKEEP: Steve LaTourette was a member of Congress for many years. He's back in Ohio. And he also is president of the Main Street Partnership, which is described as a group of centrist Republicans. Thanks very much.

LATOURETTE: Hey, thank you.

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