The House Could Get Even Nuttier After This Election, But Heat May Be Off Boehner


(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With all the attention focused on the Senate in next Tuesday's elections, it would be easy to forget that there's an election for the House happening as well. The consensus is that Republicans will probably add a few seats to their majority—not a defeat, but not a blow-out victory either. Which means that nothing changes, right? Well, not exactly. As Ed O'Keefe writes:

A new band of combative conservatives is likely to win House seats next week, posing a fresh challenge for Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team as they seek to govern an expanded GOP majority next year.

Six to eight new lawmakers are likely to replace incumbent Republicans in deep-red districts, primarily in the South. Most of them, such as Gary Palmer of Alabama and John Ratcliffe of Texas, are backed by the tea party movement and will be more likely than their predecessors to oppose GOP leaders on key legislation.

That's right—the House Republicans will get even more conservative, something you may not have thought possible. In some districts, Republicans have found success by running against that lily-livered liberal John Boehner. But it may turn out that, despite presiding over an even crazier caucus, Boehner could find that the pressure on him is dramatically lessened if Republicans take the Senate.

There are a few reasons why. For starters, a Republican Senate will be new and interesting to the political press, in a way the House will no longer be. The upper chamber could end up being the primary locus of conflict between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans, with reporters focusing on Mitch McConnell more than Boehner as the representative of congressional Republicans. Because the minority party wields influence in the Senate, there will be more stories to write about conflicts between the two parties in that chamber, especially about things like executive branch appointments, one area where Republicans will have new power to bedevil Obama.

When there's a crisis, like the need to increase the debt ceiling or keep the government from shutting down, everything will no longer hinge on Boehner. It isn't that he won't still be dealing with a bunch of lunatics to his right, but at certain times he may be able to wait to see what Mitch McConnell can pull off, and then follow along.

Neither chamber is going to do much real legislating, of course, since Obama would veto any of the things they'd actually like to do. If the House gets even nuttier, Boehner can find some ways to accommodate the rabble—another dozen Obamacare repeal votes, perhaps?—without the outside world taking much notice. But both he and McConnell will face pressure for results from the GOP base and their caucuses, since there will be an expectation of something more than symbolic victories once they control both houses. Given the president's veto power, there isn't much either one of them will be able to deliver.