With every new Congress, a Speaker of the House must be elected by the representatives. Historically, each party nominates one of its members. The Republican Party majority has voted to nominate incumbent Speaker John Boehner. Since Congressman Jim Bridenstine was first elected in 2012, this will only be the second time he takes part in an election for Speaker. This year, Bridenstine has announced that he will vote for John Boehner. This is a good thing because deviating from most of the members of one’s party makes little strategic sense.
In 2013, Bridenstine voted for then Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He was one of only twelve Republicans (excluding Boehner himself) who did not vote for the Speaker. He cited Boehner’s support for the Budget Control Act of 2011, which eventually led to the sequestration, as a reason for his opposition. Since then, he has changed his mind about the tactical value of voting against the Speaker. He still believes that Boehner is not the best choice, but with the Republican Party having a historically large majority, he doesn’t believe changing leadership is a feasible option. He reasons that there will be enough Republican votes to make Boehner Speaker even if a number of representatives oppose doing so.
Voting for Boehner is a good move for committee memberships. In Congress, most of the work is done through the various committees. Legislation has to pass through a committee before it can be voted on by the entire chamber. The composition of these committees is determined by congressional leadership. Opposing party leadership can risk one’s committee assignments.
In 2012, representatives Justin Amash and Tim Huelskamp, the only Republicans who voted against Paul Ryan’s budget, were removed from the House Budget Committee. Two other representatives also lost seats on the Financial Services Committee: David Schweikert and Walter Jones. According to a Washington Post estimate, Jones had only voted with the party 69 percent of the time from 2011–2012, which is extremely low. Schweikert is the only one of the three that voted for John Boehner. Bridenstine’s decision to support Boehner this time helps make his assignments on the Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee more secure.
Bridenstine asserts that “Speaker Boehner has not been sufficiently strong in challenging the President—the most ideologically liberal and obstinate in our nation’s history.” Assuming that Boehner hasn’t been strong enough, that President Obama is very ideological and that it’s desirable to oppose Obama, voting for Boehner is the most logical decision. A unified Republican Party would be more effective in counteracting the president than one that’s divided. Votes against the Speaker reinforce the idea that there’s a “civil war” among the GOP. This narrative is used as evidence of Republican extremism that shows Republicans aren’t capable of governing. Even with the Senate victories, Republicans still need to work with the president and Democrats in the Senate (because of the 60 vote rule). Republicans fighting amongst themselves gives the Democrats less reason to join them. Also, party in-fighting could make the 2016 race more difficult.