WASHINGTON, January 6, 2015 – Republicans formally took control of the Congress at noon today. Senator Mitch McConnell took over from Nevada Democrat Harry Reid when the Senate convened.
House Speaker John Boehner must still stand for reelection in the House today. Over a dozen House members have said they will oppose him, but over a hundred have said they won’t vote for anyone else, and it will take at least 30 Republicans in opposition to force the vote to a second round.
Boehner has to receive half the votes of all House members voting for a speaker. If any representatives are absent or vote “present,” the number of votes Boehner needs will fall below the 217 he would need if everyone were present and voted. (There are currently 434 voting members of the House; Republican Michael Grimm resigned his seat after his conviction for tax fraud.)
Several Democrats plan to be absent for the funeral of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Bad weather will delay the arrival of other House members.
Boehner’s opponents are hoping to deny him a majority in the first vote. If a second vote took place, there could be unexpected shifts in support. The odds of that are very low; it hasn’t happened since 1923, and the opposition has less than half the announced “no” votes it needs.
Boehner’s supporters dismiss the opposition as opportunistic, noting that they didn’t mount a serious effort to unseat Boehner as majority leader in November, when they should have started this effort. Because Boehner is almost a certain winner in this contest, opposition is symbolic, a show for voters at home. Rather than viewing this as a part of the democratic process, they view it as a “circular firing squad,” a distraction that will only help Democrats.
Challengers like Florida’s Ted Yoho and Texas’s Louie Gohmert disagree. They consider Boehner an ineffectual opponent to Obama, and believe that he has to go.
The opposition claims that the number of “no” votes will be greater than the dozen or so announced. But Boehner is likely to punish people who vote against him with loss of committee assignments, as he has done before, so it’s unlikely anyone with anyone to lose – most of the House – will want to be the first unannounced no-vote when the vote goes to the House floor.