It would be easy to get confused into thinking that Speaker John Boehner is in danger of losing control of the House in a coup led by fellow Republicans.
Juicy headlines about Rep. Mark Meadows's introduction of a resolution to "vacate the chair" — meaning oust Boehner — are all over television and the internet.
News outlets, particularly those on the right, seized on the hint that Boehner would be stripped of his gavel. "In a move unprecedented in the history of the House of Representatives, a Republican lawmaker filed a motion Tuesday to remove House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, from his post," FOX wrote.
It all sounds bad for Boehner — and it is, in the sense that recalcitrant Republicans are getting bolder and more creative in showing disdain for him. But Meadows actually backed down. He chose not to try to have a vote on Boehner's future, presumably because he would have been crushed on the House floor. Meadows said he just wanted the resolution to open up a conversation between Boehner and hard-line rank-and-file Republicans.
If Meadows wanted a showdown, he could have had one
Instead of using parliamentary acumen to try to force a vote on Boehner, Meadows introduced a simple resolution that would allow for the House to decide whether to "vacate the chair."
In doing so, he metaphorically handed his resolution to Boehner, who has full control of House procedure. The resolution was referred to the House Rules Committee, a de facto arm of the speaker's office. There it will sit, untouched, until this Congress ends.
Had Meadows chosen to be more confrontational, he could have used his privileges as a House member to push for an actual vote on whether to oust Boehner. But that surely would have ended badly for Meadows. Republican leaders would have moved to "table" — or kill — his resolution, and, in addition to the vast majority of Republicans, Boehner would likely get some Democrats to support him on the procedural motion.
So Meadows backed down from the fight conservatives have been spoiling for over the past several months. And John Boehner is safe in his seat at the front of the House chamber.
Why is this junior congressman from North Carolina so torqued up about Boehner?
Since Boehner took over from Nancy Pelosi as speaker in 2011, he has had to fight with an element in his caucus that really hates voting for anything the leadership wants. Over time, that's made it harder to run the House.
So Boehner started punishing members who voted against him personally and, in their effort to defeat legislation, against the party on routine procedural matters. He and his lieutenants have knocked members off committees, taken away their chairmanships, and removed them from the vote-counting whip team. Meadows lost his subcommittee gavel for a while but got it back.
The open warfare is bad for House Republicans, but it's clear from Meadows's decision to back down that Boehner's still in charge.