WASHINGTON — House Republicans began the new Congress with old divisions on display Wednesday, bitter fallout from a failed rebellion against Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner took swift action against two of the dissenters, knocking them from a key committee. But some of his allies demanded more, furious at the two dozen lawmakers who opposed him in Tuesday’s speaker vote, in the process starting the year with party infighting instead of a unified challenge to President Barack Obama.
“All of us think that they should have retribution,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a Boehner loyalist. “They put the conservative agenda at risk with their wanting to be on television and radio.”
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Other lawmakers counseled caution, urging Boehner not to crack down on his opponents and instead focus on substantive issues.
The rebels themselves warned of their own payback if Boehner does take further steps against them.
“There’s going to be a fight,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a Boehner foe, when asked what would happen if leaders retaliated against lawmakers who opposed Boehner’s re-election. “And it’s going to be real hard to bring the party together like they say they want to do.”
The dissenters were disorganized and never coalesced around an alternate candidate, instead spreading their votes among nine alternatives, some of whom got just one or two votes. But their total numbers were historically high for a speaker’s race. They included some of the same lawmakers who forced the government into a 16-day partial shutdown in the fall of 2013 in a failed effort to end Obama’s health care law, and who have repeatedly complicated leaders’ efforts to pass legislation on immigration, farm policy and other issues.
Many mainstream Republicans are sick of dealing with the dissenters at every turn and would like to see them neutralized as the new Congress gets underway with Republicans commanding a bigger majority of 246 in the House — the most in more than 60 years — along with control of the Senate.
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who often is a voice for the Republican establishment, said the two dozen Republicans who voted against Boehner should realize “that nine of out every 10 Republicans voted against me, against my position. Maybe I’m the one that’s out of step.”
“To me, it’s sort of amateur hour when you do this,” Cole said. “You need to be professional in the way you approach your job.”
It’s not clear whether Boehner will take further steps beyond removing Reps. Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent from their posts on the House Rules Committee. Webster got 12 votes in the speaker’s election on Tuesday, the most of any of the Boehner opponents.
At a closed-door meeting of all Republicans Wednesday morning, Boehner indicated that his move against Webster and Nugent wasn’t final and could be revisited, participants said.
Afterward, Boehner told reporters: “We’re going to have a family conversation, which we had this morning, about bringing our team together. And I expect that those conversations over the next couple of days will continue and we’ll come to a decision about how we go forward.”
ERICA WERNER, Associated Press