The 114th Congress voted to reelect Speaker John Boehner to a third term at the House’s top post after a small group of conservatives brought a minor scare to elect a backbencher.
The vote to elect the Speaker of the “New American Congress,” as Republicans are calling it, had the atmosphere of kids at the first day of school, with members laughing at those who caused a scene—like Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano, who voted for “Nancy D’ALESSANDRO Pelosi” in a shout, and Florida Rep. Ted Yoho—”YOHO!”—who voted for himself. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who were sitting an aisle apart, shared a bewildered glance and a smile when Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema cast a vote for Lewis. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert gave off an excellent “why not” shrug when he voted for himself for Speaker.
There were several unexpected votes, including ones for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. First-year members who campaigned against the Washington establishment like Virginia Republican Rep. Dave Brat, who beat former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his primary, and Florida Democrat Gwen Graham voted against their party leaders and for South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, respectively. The majority of the anti-Boehner conservatives votes went to Republican Rep. Dan Webster, a little-known member outside of Florida where he has served as the state’s House speaker and Senate Majority Leader, who garnered 12 votes. The opposition to Boehner proved to be loud enough to hear but not strong enough to really matter.
Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a frequent critic of Boehner, voted for Webster but said he didn’t ask anyone to oppose the Speaker.
“There is a lot of power in that office; I know some folks feel a lot of pressure and feel like they are being intimidated,” said Huelskamp, who criticized the way the congressional leadership brought to the floor the end of the year government spending bill. “And that is part of the problem. Speaker Boehner promised an open process and that hasn’t happened. As we saw in the CROmnibus—a 1,600 page bill thrown down and we had less than two days to read it and no chance to allow amendments—that is exactly what he told us he would change about the previous Speaker.”
The vast majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for their party’s leader; 216 cast votes for Boehner and 164 for Pelosi out of 408 total votes. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who supported Boehner and chairs the Rules Committee, said that he was excited for the new session but recognized the concerns of vocal conservatives who voted against Boehner.
“It’s a wake up call for everybody,” said Sessions. “We need to be aware that we got to do a better job to effectively communicate what we stand for and why we’re here. When you take $200 million away from the IRS because you’ve been trying to do that for four years, and people don’t respect that even though they had asked for it, then there’s a problem.”
“Go and set some new expectations of what to call a victory,” he added.
In his speech after the vote, Boehner asked the House to “stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong.”