Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Boehner's Big Moment

By Lucas BergerPublished March 14, 2015

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Speaker John Boehner has a great opportunity this term to establish Republican policy and assert his party's power. But can he successfully unite a divided party and fight off President Obama, or will his status as a leader collapse under increased pressure?
It has been four months since Republicans took control of Congress with a resounding midterm election victory that allowed them to gain a majority in the Senate for the first time in eight years. Led by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the entire party rejoiced in the aftermath of the election[i]. Now, with a Republican Senate, the numerous bills that had passed through the House only to die in the Senate would finally have a chance to get to the President's desk. President Obama had long been relying on his majority in the Senate to save him the trouble of even facing most Republican lead bills that made their way through the House, but now he would be forced to face those challenges head on. All in all the Republican party felt that now was the time to enact the changes they have been trying to push for the past few years.

            Boehner in particular must have been relieved to finally see a Republican Senate. Over his first four years as Speaker Boehner fought tooth and nail with Democratic leadership in the Senate, an almost impossible fight given that they had the President standing in their corner. Now though, the Senate is an ally and there is only so much President Obama can do to stop Republican advances. This theory was soon put to the test after the midterm elections when the President announced that through executive action he would he would delay deportations for four million unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the country for five years and have children who are citizens or possess a green card. This was a clear statement of intent from President Obama that even if he faced a Republican Congress he would not allow that to stop him from advancing his agenda.

            The President's action was immediately attacked by Republicans, who took to the airways to declare it unconstitutional and a clear overreach of executive powers. In response Republican leaders originally a devised a plan where they would hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would be used on immigration enforcement until Obama agreed to back off his order. This measure, however, was deemed to weak by many of the more conservative Republicans in the House and soon, under intense pressure, Boehner agreed to a plan that cut funding for all of the DHS, and would lead to it shutting down if a deal was not made by February. This plan culminated last week when Boehner, after a humiliating initial defeat that forced Republicans to enact a one-week emergency spending bridge, gave in to the President and passed a DHS budget with no provisions on immigration[ii]. The bill passed by a vote of 257-167; only 75 GOP lawmakers voted in favor[iii].

            Speaker Boehner was only reelected on the first week of January, but his latest mishap has not stopped some to call for a change in Republican leadership. This is nothing new; Boehner faced significant opposition during his recent election. Such a disastrous start to what was supposed to be "fresh start" for Congress, however, has already left many conservatives feeling that the damage is done and change needs to be made. It is very unlikely that the Speaker will be removed from his post before his term is up. Such a move would paint the Republican Party has disorganized and split; the exact opposite picture they want to paint of the next two years leading into the 2016 general election. What is important to monitor moving forward is that the Republican Party is split into two distinct groups. The first, lead by Boehner, will use the next two years as an opportunity to pass certain legislation and build good feeling heading into 2016. The second faction, who tend to be more conservative, feel that they have been waiting for years to have a Republican controlled congress and that the goal should not just be fighting the President over the next two years, but also repealing laws that have been passed during his entire time in office. Already, with his hardline stance on defunding the entire DHS, Boehner has shown that he is willing to make decisions that please those on the far right. Moving forwards, however, it would be wise of him to take note of what just transpired and realize that such tactics will lead to even more struggle than what he has transpired over the past six year. By choosing to present a bill that could pass through the Senate and President Boehner showed he may be willing to compromise, even if it means losing support from other Republicans. The Speaker has a chance to make great inroads for Republican policy, he should not waste the opportunity by being too radical.

Works Cited
Boehner, John, and Mitch Mcconnell. "Now We Can Get Congress Going." WSJ. Wsj.com, 05 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Breshahan, John, Jake Sherman, and Burgess Everett. "Senate Vote Boxes Boehner in." POLITICO. POLITICO.com, 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Kim, Siung M. "John Boehner's Big Week." POLITICO. POLITICO.com, 01 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Sherman, Jake, John Breshahan, and Manu Raju. "'Never Go into These Things without a Plan'" POLITICO. POLITICO.com, 01 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.


Walsh, Dierdre. "House Clears DHS Bill for Obama - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.


[i] Boehner, John, and Mitch Mcconnell. "Now We Can Get Congress Going." WSJ. Wsj.com, 05 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
[ii] Breshahan, John, Jake Sherman, and Burgess Everett. "Senate Vote Boxes Boehner in." POLITICO. POLITICO.com, 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
[iii]
Walsh, Dierdre. "House Clears DHS Bill for Obama - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.


Image Source: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/files/2011/07/boehner-460.jpg