The War Inside the Republican Party

Ryan Lizza  | The New Yorker | Reader Supported News | December 7, 2015

How a radical group of Republicans pushed Congress to the right.


n July 28th, Mark Meadows, a Republican representative from North Carolina, walked to the well of the House and filed a motion to vacate the chair. It’s an obscure parliamentary tool that allows any member of the House to trigger a vote to oust the Speaker. The only other time it had been used was in 1910, during a rebellion by forty-two Progressive Republicans, the Party radicals of the day, against their Speaker, Joseph Gurney Cannon, who was accused of running the House like a tyrant.

Meadows is one of the more active members of the House Freedom Caucus, an invitation-only group of about forty right-wing conservatives that formed at the beginning of this year. Since 2010, when the Party won back the chamber, the House has been engaged in a series of clashes over taxes and spending. Two years ago, House Republicans brought about a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act and nearly caused the United States to default on its debt. This week, as Congress raced to meet a December 11th deadline to pass the annual legislation that funds the government, the members of the Freedom Caucus had new demands: they wanted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and restrict Syrian refugees from entering the United States, policies that, if attached to the spending bills, could face a veto from Obama and, potentially, lead to another government shutdown.

To the general public, these fights have played out as a battle between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. But the more critical divide is within the Republican Party, as House Speaker John Boehner discovered. Boehner, who is from Ohio, was elected to Congress in 1990 and rose to the Speakership in 2010. His tenure was marked by an increasingly futile effort to control a group of conservatives that Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and an ally of Boehner’s, once described as “lemmings with suicide vests.” In 2013, to the bafflement of some colleagues, Boehner supported the shutdown, in the hope that the public backlash would expose the group as hopelessly radical. It didn’t work. The group continued to defy Boehner. He tried to regain control as Speaker by marginalizing its members, and they decided that he must be forced out.

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