The Republican congressman calling for the removal of House Speaker John Boehner says his efforts are not a distraction from the big issues facing lawmakers but will help focus Republicans on approaching them the right way.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., filed a motion to “vacate the chair” last week, catching virtually everyone in Congress by surprise since he did not do any sort of head count or consultation before taking action. In his resolution, Meadows listed multiple reasons for why Boehner ought to be removed, ranging from the consolidation of power to ceding legislative power to the executive branch and from punishing members for votes against leadership to broken promises on amending and reviewing legislation.
Boehner allies and even some of his critics wonder at the timing of this move by Meadows. They fear a focus on Boehner’s job security could distract from the GOP’s approach to key issues once Congress returns in September. Meadows says it will do exactly the opposite.
“We’ll be returning to a very busy September, with all sorts of critical issues like Iran and Planned Parenthood, funding of the government, etc. Those are critical times not that just a few voices are heard but that the vast majority of the American people are represented and that their representatives have a clear vote on all of these issues,” said Meadows, who also believes that arming military members at recruiting centers and other facilities should be another major priority after the recess.
“I think it’s really about what’s coming up more than what has happened,” he added. “All of those need to come up and so I think this puts the focus back on that and back on the legislation.”
Of all the grievances listed in the Meadows resolution, the one that likely hits closest to home is the charge of Boehner punishing those voting against the interests of GOP leaders, particularly on the rules for various debates.
Earlier this year, Meadows was stripped of his role as chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on Government Operations. After a fierce protest from conservatives, Meadows was restored. The congressman insists his efforts to vacate the chair do not stem from that episode, but he says the punishing of him and other members is a sore spot in the House Republican Conference.
“It’s not just me, ” he said. “It’s a number of other people who vote their conscience and then are punished either in a direct or indirect way for doing so. It really thwarts their efforts to represent the people that have sent them to Washington, D.C., to vote on their behalf.”
Thus far, Boehner is giving the Meadows motion scant public attention.
“You’ve got a member here and a member there who are off the reservation. No big deal,” said Boehner at his weekly press briefing. “This is one member, alright? I’ve got broad support among my colleagues. Frankly, it isn’t even deserving of a vote.”
Meadows says Boehner is entitled to his opinion but is not honestly characterizing the extent of discontent with the speaker.
“To suggest that it’s one or two people would not be indicative of the facts on the ground,” said Meadows.
“He’s really not recognizing the depths of the issue at hand here. Really, it’s not just one or two,” he added. “There is a growing, growing concern among not just conservatives but a number of members.”
Supporters and critics of Meadows are both scratching their heads over his tactics. The motion filed by Meadows leaves the timing and rules for the vote up to leadership. Detractors say if he was really serious about removing Boehner, Meadows would have filed a privileged resolution which demands an immediate vote.
Meadows says he could still go that route at some point, but he deliberately decided against it to allow for a “conversation” within the GOP conference.
“If we can have that family discussion first and solve it, then there doesn’t need to be a need for calling it up as a privileged resolution. If not, that option was available for us a few days ago and certainly will be available to us in the future,” said Meadows.
So will this actually go anywhere? Meadows says there are two key factors that will determine if this ever comes to a vote. First, he says the American people need to let their member of Congress know if this issue is important to them. He also says leadership can play a big role in how this turns out.
“It depends on the leadership team in place right now. If they’re willing to look at changing the way that we do business, then there’s not the need for a new speaker,” said Meadows, who cautions that leadership needs to do more than simply make more promises.
“We’ve had initiatives that have started, but, indeed, if we’re going to do business as usual, then it requires a change. If not, I welcome that and look forward to having those discussions with the appropriate actions to follow up. Hopefully we’ll make sure Washington, D.C., is no longer broken,” he said.
This is the third attempt by Republicans to remove Boehner. The other two occurred in the votes for speaker at the start of a new Congress in 2013 and again earlier this year. One of the major criticisms of those efforts was that GOP dissenters failed to rally around a single candidate as an acceptable alternative to Boehner.
Meadows says the idea that a conference of 247 members can only produce one option for the top leadership position is ridiculous. He says many of his colleagues would do a good job, but did not offer any names.
“There’s been a handful of people mentioned. It’s really too early to tell who would be that person or even if there will be one. But certainly there are a number of very gifted colleagues in the House of Representatives right now,” said Meadows.