J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio emerges from a closed-door caucus with House Republicans, July 27, 2011.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio emerges from a closed-door caucus with House Republicans, July 27, 2011. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Talk about high drama in high places.
House Republicans on Wednesday focused their ire onto a GOP staffer after learning that he emailed outside conservative groups urging them to pressure lawmakers to oppose Speaker John Boehner's debt-ceiling plan.
In what sounds like a moment of high tension, a Republican Study Committee staff member, the policy factory for House Republicans, was confronted by angry lawmakers.
Infuriated by the e-mails... members started chanting "Fire him, fire him!" ...
"It was an unbelievable moment," said one GOP insider. "I've never seen anything like it."
NPR's Andrea Seabrook, who covers the House, reports that Boehner actually appears to be benefiting from the controversy, with more Republicans in his caucus rallying around his plan in such numbers that they may give him the 218 votes he needs to pass the proposal:
The chatter in the Speaker's Lobby is that Boehner has the votes. Several members of the Republican Study Committee told me by far most of their people will vote with Boehner (fallout from staffer lobbying members against the plan is not helping the RSC). Even those who "feel enormous pressure" to hold the conference together say they think it'll pass.
Here's how Peter King, R-NY put it to me in the Speaker's Lobby just a bit ago:
"You go with the president, you go with Harry Reid or you go with John Boehner. If we vote it down, then we have nothing left on our side. We would weaken ourselves as a party really, for the next year and a half."
Still, as Andrea goes on to report, not everyone was falling in line:
When I asked Phil Gingrey, R-GA, about the pressure from the Leaders to hang together as a party and vote for this, he said their push is:
"Strong, strong pressure, absolutely and very, very persuasive and I try to listen and listen very carefully. I'll continue to do that. But you know, right now I'm still a 'no.' "
If Boehner now has enough votes to pass his bill, that would represent a significant shift from where matters stood when the day started.
Boehner faced substantial opposition among his own Republicans, especially after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday said his plan would cut $850 billion over ten years from federal spending, $150 billion less than the $1 trillion he had claimed for the plan.
Even before the CBO issued its conclusions, many Republicans were skeptical of the Boehner plan. Chief among them was Rep. James Jordan, like Boehner, from Ohio. Jordan said Boehner's spending cuts weren't deep enough.
Jordan chairs the RSC which has been at the center of the opposition to the Boehner plan.
But Politico reports that despite that opposition, Jordan apologized for the aide's actions.
Brian Straessele, the RSC's communications director, provided details on the email incident:
"Earlier this week, an RSC staffer sent an inappropriate email to outside groups that identified members of Congress he believed were undecided on the debt reduction proposal offered by the Speaker. This action was clearly inappropriate and was not authorized by the Chairman, the Executive Director, or any other members of the staff. Chairman Jordan apologized to members for this breach of trust at the Conference and RSC meetings earlier today. This has never been – and never will be – the way we do business at the RSC. We apologize to everyone affected, and we have already taken steps to ensure that it never happens again – either by this staffer or any other RSC staffer."
The aide's emails were definitely of the sort that could help any would-be Republican primary challengers to some of those lawmakers who were venting their anger at him in that room, which partly explains their reaction.