South Carolinians were behind another Civil War.
U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan, a pair of Palmetto State lawmakers, are among the conservative Republican congressmen credited with — or blamed for — helping push out House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who said Friday he will resign next month.
Mulvaney and Duncan, elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, have worked to upset the status quo within the GOP in Congress since their first days in Washington. They targeted Boehner, who rose through the Republican Party’s leadership ranks, for compromising too much with Democrats and on the GOP’s conservative principles.
“We have moved the bar somewhat with this,” Duncan, a Laurens Republican, said Friday of Boehner’s resignation. “I’m not reveling in it. We have an opportunity to get someone (in leadership) who is more of a constitutional conservative and will stand up for the legislative branch.”
Mulvaney was among of group of conservative Republicans from the House’s Freedom Caucus who met with Boehner Thursday, the day before his resignation. The conservatives pushed to preserve their plan to shut down the federal government, which Boehner opposed, unless Congress cut off money to Planned Parenthood.
The Indian Land Republican said Friday that he did not see Boehner’s resignation as a victory. But, he added, he hopes the next speaker will push House Republicans “a little further to the right.”
South Carolina’s conservative congressional upstarts helped make Boehner’s life uncomfortable, contributing to his sudden departure, Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson said. “They have definitely won this round.”
But Vinson questioned whether the Freedom Caucus’ winner-take-all tactics, which play well with constituents at home, will help Republicans in next year’s congressional and presidential elections.
“They’re scoring points, but Democrats still have representation and moderate Republicans, God love them, still get elected,” Vinson said. “Voters just want (Congress) to solve the problems. They don’t like long-standing squabbles that don’t solve problems.”
Columbia Democrat Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, said he expects no changes with Boehner’s departure next month. “It can’t be any worse than it is,” Clyburn said. “It puts us in perpetual political mode and hampers running the government.”
The Freedom Caucus, which includes about 40 members, does not have enough votes to elect a speaker and take over House leadership. But it has enough clout to disrupt what House leaders can do.
The fight that ended Boehner’s near five-year run as speaker centered on avoiding a government shutdown next week over federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Conservatives — angered by videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing selling tissue from aborted fetuses — want to cut off $500 million a year in federal money that goes to the women’s health group.
During the meeting Thursday with Mulvaney and his Freedom Caucus colleagues, Boehner offered a compromise — keep the government operating and go after Planned Parenthood’s money later this year.
That wasn’t enough, the conservatives said.
“He was giving up the only (negotiating) tool that we have,” Mulvaney told The (Rock Hill) Herald.
The conservatives told Boehner that they would fight to remove him as speaker. In January, 25 Republicans — including Duncan — voted for someone other than Boehner as he sought re-election as speaker.
“We told him we were disappointed, frustrated and angry,” Mulvaney said.
The Freedom Caucus Republicans did not ask Boehner to resign, Mulvaney said, so the speaker’s announcement Friday was a surprise.“I have sympathy for John,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he was a hero in conservative circles for his hard line on earmarks.”
But Boehner “had ceased to be a leader,” Mulvaney said. “This was a principles disagreement, not personal.”
Duncan said Boehner made an honorable gesture in stepping down to ease conflict among House Republicans. “It’s something you don’t see often in this town.”
Mulvaney, Duncan and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg Republican also elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, said they have no plans to run for speaker.
But Duncan has questions about the favorite to succeed Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Tell me how he will govern differently,” Duncan said. “He’s been on the team that’s part of the frustration about how Washington has been governed.”
Duncan said he is ready to continue the civil war within the GOP, citing the public’s dissatisfaction with Congress. As evidence of that dissatisfaction, he cited Republican presidential polls showing three political novices, led by New York billionaire Donald Trump, holding the top spots.
“House representatives ought to stand up and listen to what they’re saying,” Duncan said.
Furman’s Vinson is skeptical. The political divisions within the GOP did not help win the White House in 2012, when vulnerable Democratic President Barack Obama was seeking re-election, Vinson said. “Now, they want to jeopardize that by shutting down the government,” she said.
Unlike Mulvaney and Duncan, Gowdy did not criticize Boehner on Friday.
Gowdy received a high-profile assignment from the House speaker to lead a select committee that is looking at the Benghazi terrorist attack. That inquiry has expanded into an examination of the email practices of Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, when she was secretary of state.
“I am happy that one of (Boehner’s) final memories will be watching the pope address an institution the speaker loved and served for many years,” Gowdy said Friday, referring to Pope Francis’ historic speech.
What they said
What members of the S.C. congressional delegation had to say about House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to resign:
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia: “Last year (an election year) was about politics. This year was supposed to be governing. ... You can’t run a country by insisting on everything being done your way. I don’t see things changing.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg: “The speaker’s job is an incredibly hard one, as whoever takes his place will learn. He has been nothing but fair to me and particularly supportive of the Select Committee on Benghazi.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca: “I’ve known him for 20 years, and he has always tried to bring about change in the best interests of our nation and party. He is a solid conservative who understands the responsibility which comes from governing.”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land: “By constantly indicating that he was unwilling to use the power of the purse he, along with leadership in the Senate, led Congress down the road to being irrelevant in the running of this country.”
Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach: “John Boehner is a good and decent man, who shouldered great responsibility during difficult times in our country. He has led with allegiance to our conference, our government and, most importantly, the American people.”
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston: “What he did today was a remarkable act of leadership for the way he forfeited his speakership to avoid further acrimony and division. The pope spoke just yesterday of laying down one’s life for another and the Golden Rule, and these themes certainly reverberated with the speaker's actions today.”