Former House Speaker John Boehner gave an interview to Politico Magazine that they dubbed: “John Boehner Unchained.” “Unhinged” would have been a more apt description — the former speaker delivers salty commentary and bitter bromides against former colleagues and current leading lights, dropping f*** bombs more frequency than a sailor. Shockingly, Boehner also brazenly admits that he had a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) to save his job as House speaker.
During his stint as House Speaker, Boehner began to receive resistance from a small but committed group of conservatives that stubbornly clung to their values even as Congress was awash with unprecedented spending. The rebels called themselves the House Freedom Caucus, and rather than negotiate with them, Boehner began to cut end-of-the-year spending deals with Pelosi and the Democrats. Boehner’s decision to cooperate with Democrats rather than find consensus in his own party didn’t receive a lot of coverage in the press, which painted the Freedom Caucus as “knuckle-heads” and the caucus of “no.” (That characterization of the caucus continues to this day, with CNN running a story titled “Why (almost) everyone hates the House Freedom Caucus” as recently as March of this year.)
The bitterness of Boehner’s remarks in the Politico piece, where he calls former colleagues “idiots,” “anarchists” and “assholes” is clear — but what was less reported during his tenure is the way the former Speaker sacked conservative committee chairs that dared to oppose him. In a body that’s deeply sensitive to rank, Boehner removed House Freedom Caucus members that represented the wishes of voters and stood for more limited government and budgets that balance.
Fed up with Boehner’s retaliation against House Freedom Caucus members, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) put in a surprise “motion to vacate” the chair in 2015. The 40-odd member caucus didn’t have enough votes to get one of their own elected to lead the House, but they could had enough votes to depose Boehner.
The fact that Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his party to retain his seat wasn’t reported in 2015. Freedom Caucus members said this was true, and the majority of the media scoffed. However, buried within the Politico story is this quote:
To be clear: Boehner was never going to lose the speakership. In another internal memo—this one digital-time-stamped September 16, 2015, and titled “Save the Institution”—Sommers explained to Boehner that his survival would be ensured if Pelosi had Democratic members vote “present” when the motion came up. If they did, Boehner could win with a simple majority of Republican votes cast—which was never in doubt, as the number of GOP defectors was between 20 and 40. In a subsequent meeting, Boehner broached the idea with Pelosi and she agreed. “You can’t have 30 people in your caucus decide they’re going to vacate the chair,” she tells me. “He knew I had—not his back, but the institution’s back.”
That’s a really stunning admission. If the mainstream media had dug into Freedom Caucus claims at the time, they could have reported this in 2015.
In the piece, the former Speaker reserves an unusual amount of ire for the Freedom Caucus — but given their pivotal role in deposing him, perhaps that’s not surprising. Boehner calls Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio,) who chaired the caucus when Boehner left Washington, a “legislative terrorist.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted that when he sought a vote on an amendment to rein in the National Security Agency, Boehner also called him the same, to his face.
“I don’t think you mean that,” Amash replied.
Boehner then repeated the insult — with “more color.”
This was all business as usual when Boehner ruled the House. His staff would frequently unleash even worse insults to the press in emails marked “on deep background.” They called a journalist that wasn’t afraid to report the truth on the upstart conservatives “a prop for Freedom Caucus propaganda;” and once emailed me to say that one of my well-sourced news pieces predicting Boehner’s downfall was “bull****.” Within two months, Boehner had resigned.
Is it any surprise that a man who retaliated against conservative members, used (and continues to use) deeply personal attacks, and whose staff did likewise, would come to be so reviled that he’d lose his speakership? Not really.
What is surprising, and sad, is that the press source so much of their material from House and Senate leadership that they completely missed this story at the time. They refused to believe credible members because “leadership” fed them its own version of the facts.
Had the media done their own whip count, they could have discovered the truth.