House Speaker John Boehner announced Friday he would resign from Congress October 30 and one of the core groups behind the tea party movement could not be happier.
“Great day for conservatives, great day for freedom,” said FreedomWorks President and CEO Adam Brandon, who organization led petition drives and encouraged Americans to demand the resignation of Boehner.
FreedomWorks was a key player in organizing the tea party, which fueled public resistance to ideas like the Wall Street bailout, the Obama stimulus and the Obama healthcare overhaul. Passage of those items and others despite public revulsion led to a Republican House majority in 2010. Boehner became speaker, but Brandon says he failed to live up to the promises that made him the most powerful man in Congress.
Brandon says this is the latest win for the tea party and follows on the heels of a stunning rejection of the House GOP leadership last year.
“This started when Dave Brat defeated (then-House Majority Leader) Eric Cantor in Virginia. After every one of those victories, you always hear the same thing. ‘Oh, the tea party movement has died out. Oh, it doesn’t have that much of a political bite in Washington.’ Every single time that happens, this roars back to life,” said Brandon.
“Speaker Boehner was defeated by members of the House Freedom Caucus and the House Freedom Caucus has its direct lineage in this grassroots movement,” he added.
On Friday, Boehner said he wanted to avoid a contentious vote inside the GOP conference but insisted he made up his mind that morning and was leaving on his own terms. Brandon strongly disagrees.
“He woke up and realized after some meetings yesterday that this House Freedom Caucus was going to stay together and he was out of options,” said Brandon.
While the timing of Boehner’s decision surprised a lot of people, conservative discontent was palpable for years. Just prior to the summer recess, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., introduced a resolution to remove Boehner as speaker. It was not acted upon, but Brandon believes that was the handwriting on the wall for Boehner’s time in the speaker’s chair.
“Mark Meadows’ resolution was kind of a sword of Damocles hanging over the speaker’s head. Everyone laughed at it and laughed earlier in the year at a motion in which 25 people back in January said they didn’t want the speaker. I think people went from laughing to smirking to getting nervous,” said Brandon, who says anywhere from 50-70 House Republicans were ready to reject Boehner.
So why was a growing number of House Republicans ready to cast Boehner aside? Brandon says there were multiple reasons, starting with high-profile failures.
“From ‘cromnibus’ to the failure to stand up on Iran to a failure to do anything real big, that’s not why you have a Republican majority. You have a Republican majority to do things and they weren’t really doing anything,” said Brandon. “There were over 40 or 50 show votes on Obamacare but when it really came to defund Obamacare, nothing happened.”
Another point of frustration for many grassroots activists was their belief that Boehner constantly surrendered ground to the president.
“There was too much negotiating against himself and not enough standing up to President Obama. President Obama has been relentless in pursuing his agenda. He puts his lines in the sand down on ‘if you don’t fund Planned Parenthood, I’m going to veto everything.’ Then Boehner would quickly go back and say, ‘Oh okay, how about this? How about this?'” said Brandon.
Brandon says that was a sure-fire prescription for failure.
“That’s not how you negotiate. You negotiate from a position of strength. ‘Here’s what we demand. Here’s where we are. You say where you are and then we’ll sit across the table,” added Brandon.
Boehner and his allies often made the case that tea party demands were unrealistic, noting there was only so much Republicans could so long as Obama was in the White House and Democrats ran the Senate until this year.
Brandon is having none of that.
“That is the lamest excuse in the world. So basically when everything’s perfect and there’s sunshine, we can play baseball. No, you have a Republican majority in the Senate. You have a Republican majority in the House. Do something with it,” said Brandon.
Most reports suggest House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is likely to succeed Boehner as speaker. Brandon isn’t convinced that’s a slam dunk.
“I think there’s going to be a very robust battle for speaker. I would love to see someone like Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) step up. Jeb Hensarling is responsible for stopping the Import-Export Bank. He’s always stood on principle. Let’s get someone like that in office,” said Brandon.
Even if McCarthy does become speaker, Brandon is hopeful he will have learned from Boehner’s fate.
“Even if it is McCarthy, I think he knows the only reason he’s majority leader is the tea party with Dave Brat beat Eric Cantor. Now I think he knows the only reason he would be speaker is because the House Freedom Caucus beat Boehner. He should have a pretty good idea of how he got to the office he’s in,” said Brandon.