Bruised Boehner re-elected as US House speaker
The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has narrowly survived a re-election vote as the new Congress met for the first time, in spite of deep divisions inside his own party that have left him badly wounded.
In contrast with 2010, when he won the unanimous support of his party, nine Republicans voted against Mr Boehner, who has lost support over his handling of the “fiscal cliff” crisis and other issues.
Although on the surface his majority looks comfortable, Boehner won mainly because warring Republicans could not come up with alternative candidates to unite behind. Only Mr Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi were on the ballot.
He won 220 votes – just three more than he needed to avoid an embarrassing second ballot – to Ms Pelosi’s 192. Ironically, he was saved by some of the members of Congress who have made his life awkward over the past few years, in particular Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann.
Before he was sworn in, Mr Boehner signalled that renewed battles lie ahead with the White House over spending. “Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. And these are not separate problems.
“At $16 trillion, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state. The American dream is in peril,” Mr Boehner said.
His only reference to the bruising battles he has had with the White House and his own party came when he said the voters had not sent members to Congress to make a name for themselves but to act.
“We are standing here not to be something but to do something or, as I like to call it, doing the right thing.”
The new Congress, sworn in yesterday, is more diverse in terms of race, gender and sexual preference, and includes a Hindu, a Buddhist and two female combat veterans. For the first time, white men are in a minority, at least among House Democrats.
Crucially, the political make-up is largely unchanged;essentially the balance remains the same, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and warring Republicans with a majority in the House.
This Congress looks on course to be as unproductive as the last one, paralysed by the civil war being fought inside the Republican caucus in the House between the Tea Party-backed members and more moderate and pragmatic ones.
Barack Obama has an ambitious second-term programme that includes immigration reform and gun control, but that could be put in jeopardy by looming battles over spending cuts and the debt ceiling, and the unwillingness of Republicans to work with the president.
The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, put Mr Obama on notice in a speech yesterday.
“In a couple of months, the president will ask us to raise the nation’s debt limit. 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,” he said.
The stand-off between Congress and the White House, and the feuding between Republican members of Congress, mirrors the wider struggle the November presidential election defeat failed to resolve: whether the Republicans shift more to the right or pivot towards the centre.
– (Guardian service)