Rumor season has begun early for embattled House Speaker John Boehner talk heating up on Capitol Hill that the Ohio Republican is considering leaving after his term ends in 2014 — or once he cuts a debt ceiling and budget bill in December.
The rumors are being fed by Hill insiders and even one top GOP lawmaker, though Boehner and his aides are dismissing them as tittle-tattle. Spokesman Michael Steel firmly told Secrets, “The speaker has already addressed this issue publicly on a number of occasions, and indicated he expects to continue to serve as speaker in the next Congress.”
The widespread nature of the talk, though, has some insiders already sizing up potential replacements. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor be the frontrunner, but others, notably Rep. Paul Ryan2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, and conservative Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Steve Scalise of Louisiana are also in the hunt.
“I think he’s gone,” said a longtime GOP congressional aide of Boehner. “He has had the hardest speakership in years.”
Others call the rumors silly, especially the one about leaving after the budget deal. “That would create a constitutional crisis. You’d have to have a whole new speakership election and that could tear apart the Republicans more and Boehner doesn’t want that,” said a dismissive insider.
But who could blame Boehner for at least toying with the idea of leaving? Not only is his GOP caucus splintered between Tea Party conservatives and some moderates, but he’s had the bad luck of dealing with a largely absent president which has cost him the type of historic deals former speakers like Republican Newt Gingrich and Democrat Thomas P. O’Neill cut with Presidents Clinton and Reagan.
He’s also faced harsh criticism recently for backing President Obama’s requests on Syria and his effort to cut a budget and debt ceiling deal. And that deal is what House leaders are looking to as they gauge how long Boehner might stay.
“The stakes are very high and the outcome of the debt ceiling fight will likely be a defining moment on where the Republican leadership stands with its members,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and spokesman to former House Dennis Hastert and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.