WASHINGTON — Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, was narrowly re-elected speaker of the House on Thursday amid open dissent from conservatives on the House floor that signaled that the turmoil and division of the 112th Congress is likely to spill into the new 113th.
Boehner, in his opening address to the new House, indicated that the Republican majority would make the federal debt and deficit its singular focus. He also delivered a blunt message to those he sees as more interested in stirring dissension and scoring political points than in being constructive.
“If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place,” Boehner said, calling for the House to focus on results. “The door is behind you.”
In the Senate as well, hard feelings from the old Congress were reverberating in the new.
The Democratic leadership said it would hold off on efforts to limit filibusters while negotiations with Republicans about procedural changes continued. But more junior Democrats signaled they are not done pressing to diminish the power of the filibuster, even if that means taking the extraordinary step of changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote — an approach dubbed “the nuclear option.”
“The Senate is broken,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
As the 113th Congress convened just after noon, leaders of both parties in both chambers tried to strike a note of comity after the struggles of the previous Congress.
“I hope with all my heart that we will find common ground that is a higher, better place for our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said before she handed the gavel to Boehner. “Surely we can be touched by the better angels of our nature.”
But discord was on plain display in the roll call vote for speaker as Boehner weathered defections from rank-and-file Republicans to defeat Pelosi by a vote of 220-192. Other choices — among them defeated House member and Tea Party firebrand Allen West of Florida; Boehner’s second in command, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia; retired Gen. Colin Powell — drew 14 protest votes from members of both parties.
The tension around Boehner, who was elected unanimously by House Republicans two years ago, showed in the long, pomp-filled roll call vote where each member was called on to publicly announce a choice. A dozen Republicans either voted for someone other than Boehner, voted present or remained silent even though they were in the chamber. It was not until the very last votes that Boehner cleared the majority he needed.
Some mavericks were members who have been thorns in the speaker’s side for two years, such as three representatives who were thrown off committees late last year: Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who voted for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio; Justin Amash of Michigan, who voted for fellow sophomore conservative Raul Labrador of Idaho; and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who voted for former U.S. Comptroller David Walker.
“I think it was a vote of no confidence,” said Huelskamp. “In this town the intimidation was intense. There were a lot of members who wanted to vote no.”
A few who opposed Boehner were newcomers, signaling a new generation of dissent. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma voted for Cantor, and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky voted for Amash. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., started his career in the House by voting for Cantor, to “send a statement,” he said.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, voted present. And as their names were called repeatedly for their votes, Labrador looked down at his desk and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., stood silently in the back of the chamber, arms crossed, staring straight ahead.
On the other side of the aisle, the dwindling ranks of Southern Democrats showed that Pelosi is seen as a liability in some quarters. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., voted for Powell. Rep. John Barrow voted for fellow Georgia House Democrat John Lewis.
The agenda laid out by Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, jibed well with the demands of small-government conservatives who have complained that neither leader has been sufficiently confrontational with President Barack Obama.
Both said cutting spending would be front and center, putting them on a collision course with the president and Democratic leaders. And neither was taking seriously the president’s pledge not to bargain over raising the government’s statutory borrowing ceiling.
“In a couple of months the president will ask us to raise the nation’s debt limit,” McConnell said. “We cannot agree to increase that borrowing limit without agreeing to reforms that lower the avalanche of spending that’s creating this debt in the first place.”
Boehner will head a House that has a Republican lead of 233 to 200, with two vacancies — a loss of eight seats for the GOP. Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate, controling two more seats than in the past two years.
Among the new rules of the House adopted Thursday, one requires committees to identify potentially duplicative programs when considering the creation of new programs or reauthorizing existing ones. Another will require annual budget resolutions to contain information about the growth of entitlement programs, such as food stamps, a senior Republican leadership aide said.
The new rules will also authorize House lawyers to continue a legal defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal bond exclusively between a man and a woman. That angered Democrats, who saw it as a frivolous expenditure of tax dollars when the Justice Department has declined to defend the law’s constitutionality.
The first day of 1the 13th Congress included some uplifting scenes, especially the return of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a year after suffering a major stroke.
Vice President Joe Biden greeted him with a hug and a “Welcome back, man!”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.