With John Boehner receiving low marks from both moderates and conservatives over his handling of the now- resolved government shutdown and debt-ceiling battles,discussion is rife over whether any fellow House Republican will challenge him as speaker.
Though the conventional wisdom is that the wily Ohioan will survive, there is enough residual anger to make his continued hold on the position something less than a foregone conclusion.
The name being mentioned most as his potential successor is Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who resisted pressure to challenge Boehner at the start of the 113th Congress in January.
"At this juncture, Tom Price seems to get along with all factions among House Republicans," veteran conservative activist and public relations man Phil Kent told Newsmax. "And he is poised to be a successor if a full-blown rebellion takes off."
At 59, Price is five years younger than Boehner. The five-term congressman who represents a suburban Atlanta district is a past chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. He is now Paul Ryan's vice chairman on the House Budget Committee.
The most vocal criticism of Boehner's performance comes from those on the political right who feel the speaker did not go far enough in the battle with the White House.
Kent, a former editorial page editor of the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, believes there should be a challenge. "John Boehner is in serious trouble if he wants to be re-elected. Aside from divisions within the conference over tactics and strategy, he is simply not good with messaging and overall public relations."
Kent is not alone in his feelings. Stephen Hess, Brookings Institute fellow and centrist Republican, told Newsmax, "To put it frankly, he should be challenged. If you're in a position of leadership, you should never run the risk of the nation defaulting. He should be in serioustrouble."
But despite all the talk of revolt against Boehner, Newsmax found that neither the numbers nor the spirit are currently there among the speaker's 230 Republican House colleagues to try to depose him.
Even among the 12 Republicans who refused to vote for him for speaker in the full House in January, Newsmax found lawmakers who were satisfied with Boehner wielding the gavel.
"I'm inclined to vote for him," Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas, who voted "present" on the January vote for speaker rather than for Boehner, told Newsmax on Tuesday. "Maybe he didn't go as far as some people wanted, but he did a lot in this fight that conservatives in the House wanted. And we held pretty strong on all of the votes [for continuing resolutions] and we're pretty united today."
Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, seconded this view and dismissed the critics of Boehner within the House Republican Conference as "20-to-30 people who insisted on extending all of the Bush tax cuts last December and wound up with a bill that will cost us $10 billion in additional taxes over the next decade."
"And now they're going to get a worse deal on extending the debt ceiling than they would have if they extended it in the first place," Norquist said.
"Twice, they have said, 'We can do it better' and twice this has resulted in a worse deal. So now we're supposed to follow them a third time and oppose Speaker Boehner? Fine — if you believe in Tinkerbell or that you can turn flax into gold like Rumpelstiltskin," Norquist said.
GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said Boehner is most likely safe in his job despite the dissatisfaction of tea party Republicans.
"A lot of folks, again, are unwilling to challenge the status quo, especially if it's their own establishment," Huelskamp told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
"I'll just say, the class of '94 seems to have a lot more guts and gusto than the class of 2010 because they were willing to take down Speaker [Newt] Gingrich. But I don't see that happening anytime soon in today's Congress."
Former colleagues who have been close to Boehner also dismissed the criticism and agreed that there are not enough votes to challenge him successfully.
"They won't challenge him if the conference is truly sane," said former Republican Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, a strong conservative who was a key ally in Boehner's initial election as House GOP leader in 2006.
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"There are more than enough members who didn't want to follow [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz and go off the cliff and realize that John Boehner is a better strategist. His opponents ought to realize that their last 'big idea' had no chance of success," Hart said.
Perhaps the most interesting response to the question of whether Boehner should or might be replaced came from former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan.
Recalling how he did not vote for Boehner either when he was defeated for re-election as GOP Conference chairman in 1998 or as GOP leader in 2006, Hoekstra told Newsman, "John never exacted a price from me — not ever. Knowing very well I had opposed him, he told me when I asked to be reappointed to the House Intelligence Committee: 'Sure. You're doing a great job.'"
"John may have opposition for the speakership but you can't beat someone with no-one. And when you look at what's happened in the last few weeks, I don't know how anyone could make the case that he or she could have done a better job," Hoekstra said.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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