WASHINGTON — Some Tea Party–friendly Republicans complained this week that they were "purged" from key leadership positions, but Speaker John Boehner responded in a closed-door conference Wednesday that the members' sin wasn't "ideology" — it was disloyalty.
The House Steering Committee decision to unseat four members "was not done lightly," Boehner told his conference, according to a Republican in the meeting. "This is something the Committee took seriously, and hopes never to have to do again," the source said Boehner said.
The conservatives have claimed that Boehner is rejecting Tea Party principles — but the reality may have more to do with party discipline: Other outspoken conservatives kept their roles, while those punished had already been in Boehner's black book for, in one case, allegedly leaking an embarrassing story about his colleagues.
“The Committee’s decision had nothing to do with ideology. For those suggesting otherwise, I’d respectfully suggest that you look at some of the people the Steering Committee put in charge of committees. I’d also suggest you look at some of the members who were added to the committees by the Steering Committee. If you do that and come away with the conclusion that there was a ‘conservative purge,’ I’d be interested hearing the rationale,” Boehner added, according to the source.
The decision to tank the slots from Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Huelskamp, and David Schweikert has enraged many conservative activists, and the members have pointedly claimed they were pushed out because of their ideological leanings on abortion, gay marriage, and federal spending.
“We were not notified about what might occur but it confirms in my mind the deepest suspicions that most Americans have about Washington DC: It’s petty, it’s vindictive, and if you have conservative principles you will be punished,” Huelskamp said during a Heritage Foundation event earlier this week.
But according to leadership aides, the decision had little to do with their views and more with what one aide described as the trio “not knowing how to be team players.”
Huelskamp and Amash have repeatedly been thorns in the side of leadership and, in some cases, their colleagues — in fact, one aide pointed out that Huelskamp voted against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.
And Schweikert engendered significant anger amongst elements of leadership during his reelection bid against fellow Republican Ben Quayle. He is also widely considered by leadership to be the source of an embarrassing story this summer about Republican members’ drunken swimming session in the Sea of Galilee.
Schweikert, notably, was also ousted from Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s Whip Team last year because of concerns with his loyalty. The Whip team is a key organ of leadership, designed to help round up support amongst Republicans for bills coming to the floor.
A Republican aide also pointed to the fact that Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who has consistently broken with leadership over the war, was replaced on the Financial Services Committee by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a protégé of Sen. Jim DeMint and one of the most conservative members of the House.
Additionally, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan — who during the 2011 debt limit repeatedly criticized what he viewed as the party’s abdication to Obama on spending issues — also suffered no repercussions.
UPDATE: Schweikert has denied being the leak of the Sea of Galilee story, as have the reporters who originally broke the story.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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