Just when House Speaker John Boehner thought he was out of the leadership bind he faced over impending tax hikes…they pulled him back in.
The furor over failure to vote on a relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy Jan 1. has now engulfed Boehner in bipartisan criticism, and one of the people pouring gasoline on the fire is Boehner’s lieutenant, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Several accounts from key players in the push for the bill show Cantor laying the blame for the failure to vote on the legislation, legislation that Cantor had personally crafted, at the feet of the House Speaker.
“All I can tell you is that this was the speakers decision, his alone,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during an impassioned press conference Jan.2. ”I was called at 11:20 last night by leader Cantor, and told that authority for the vote was pulled by the speaker.” (It’s worth watching the whole press conference as Christie was as direct as we’ve come to expect.)
Republican representative from New York Peter King also described Cantor as putting blame on the speaker during an interview with Fox News:
“I first heard the rumor about 6:30 last night when Eric Cantor said to me, I said, ‘Eric, what time is the supplemental bill coming up?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s up to the speaker.’ And I said, ‘But Eric, you said it was coming up.’ And then he said, ‘Well, the speaker hasn’t given the green light yet.’
I go to the speaker, he goes, ‘No, it’s up to the majority leader (Cantor).’ And that’s when I started to realize there was ping-pong going on.”
The back and fourth supports a description from a Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer, who said that the failure to vote was the result of “a crossfire of Beltway leadership squabbles.”
That squabble was the result of resentment over Cantor’s dissent over the fiscal cliff averting tax deal, congressional sources told the New York Daily News:
House Speaker John Boehner yanked the bill to provide $60 billion in emergency aid to states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy to get back at a top lieutenant who defied him over the Fiscal Cliff fix, Congressional sources said Wednesday.
Boehner was angry, the sources said, when Majority Leader Eric Cantor led the revolt Tuesday by conservative House Republicans against the Fiscal Cliff compromise that wound up being passed later in the day, the sources said.
Boehner has been facing criticism for some time from his own party, as a new generation of deficit hawks who swept into office in 2010 have opposed his more traditional Washington compromise approach to negotiating. But the decision he made to proceed with a vote on the Senate solution to the tax hike only further enraged this contingent. The bill received only 85 votes from GOP members, with roughly two thirds of Republican votes opposed to the bill. That paltry support meant that the bill violated the so-called Hastert rule, which is a guideline typically followed by GOP leadership that no vote be taken on any bill in the House that does not have a majority support from Republicans.
One of the more notable no votes came from Cantor, who lead something of an insurrection against the bill by opposing it during closed door GOP meetings, but who’s effort came up short in the face of strong support from Democrats.
The combination of unrest surrounding the fiscal cliff vote and upset over the failure to hold a vote on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill looks like it might imperil Boehner’s odds of holding onto his Speakership when votes are cast Jan. 3. And behind both uprisings against Boehner is Cantor, who is positioning himself for a run at Boehner’s position.
Wednesday afternoon Boehner and Cantor released a joint statement saying that the House will hold a vote on the initial relief funding Friday, with additional funding to be voted on next week. But the damage to Boehner may have already been done.