WASHINGTON – Raising taxes for top earners was anathema to Rep. Dave Camp. Still, there he was on New Year’s Day 2013 backing a plan to do just that averting a U.S. fiscal crisis to help John Boehner.
Camp’s announcement this week that he won’t seek re- election means one less loyal lieutenant for Boehner. The Ways and Means Committee chairman is the latest supporter of the House speaker to call it quits.
Boehner is also losing Mike Rogers, an ally who owed his position as Intelligence Committee chairman to the Ohio Republican. Doc Hastings, among the speaker’s most reliable supporters, is leaving after 20 years. Tom Latham considered retiring in 2012 and postponed the exit until now, partly to help his friend Boehner keep the Iowa seat in Republican hands.
“Anytime you lose members with this kind of expertise and know-how, it’s a burden for leadership,” said John Feehery, a Republican consultant and aide to former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “There’s a lot of responsibility that falls to John.”
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In a Capitol where accomplishments are built on relationships, some of Boehner’s most trusted confidantes won’t return next year, when lawmakers must again address the U.S. debt ceiling and possibly grapple with immigration policy.
Replenishing his support system will be crucial for Boehner as the limited-government tea party movement –which often equates deal-making and compromise with weakness – has complicated management of the House Republican majority.
“It just depends on the people who replace them,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, a member of Boehner’s inner circle who is facing a tea party-backed candidate in the Republican primary in Idaho. “That’s a challenge for Boehner if he decides to run for speaker again.”
Boehner’s struggle to pull together House Republicans and avoid embarrassing intraparty battles in recent years over the debt limit, immigration-law revisions, Hurricane Sandy recovery operations and farm legislation has contributed to palace intrigue about whether he'll return in 2015 as speaker.
A bartender’s son who tells off-color jokes and smokes in his Capitol office, Boehner filed for re-election and insists he'll be back. Any hint of his departure would severely lessen his influence over members.
“We’re going to have a new speaker,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, one of 12 Republicans who didn’t vote for Boehner as speaker in 2013. “Looks like a whole bunch of folks leaving who are key to him staying as speaker.”
While Boehner, 64, may not replicate the personal friendships he’s losing – Latham and retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss often share dinner and red wine with the speaker, including just this week – indications are that he’s already replacing some loyal political allies.
“One of the joys of serving in Congress is the friends you make,” Chambliss, a former Republican House member, said Wednesday at a Bloomberg Government breakfast. “But John’s status as speaker of the House right now is probably as strong and as solid as it’s ever been.”
Boehner’s allies say he constantly works to expand his reach in the House Republican conference with fundraisers for candidates, meetings with first-term lawmakers, and regular visits with veteran members. He collected more than $54 million in 2013, headlining or hosting almost 100 fundraising events, according to Boehner’s political office.
“Team Boehner is larger than it’s ever been,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican who attributed speculation on Boehner’s departure to “exotic members” who “want to be a spectacle and hurt the Republican Party.”
First elected to the House in 1990, Boehner has been the chamber’s top Republican since 2007. That’s longer than former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and equal to his predecessor, Hastert of Illinois.
Boehner served most of 2006 as the House majority leader when Hastert was speaker, and when Republicans lost control of the chamber in that year’s November election, he became head of his party’s minority caucus. Four years later, he became speaker following the 2010 election in which the party regained the House.
More than half of the 233 House Republicans have been elected since Boehner took over his party’s top position.
“He’s been able to win the confidence of this conference when we were in the majority, keep it after we lost the majority, and keep it during the creation of a new majority,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “It suggests someone with enormous staying power.”
While there’s no one reason for the departures from the House 24 House Republicans so far have announced they aren’t seeking re-election, compared with 18 in 2012 many share a sense of frustration about the political divide in Congress that makes it hard to get much done.
“You have a lot of moderate members looking at things and wondering where their role is in this process,” said Tom Davis, a former House member from Virginia and onetime National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. “These are some of Boehner’s staunchest allies.”
Latham, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation spending, indicated he was retiring to spend more time with his family in Iowa. He considered retiring in 2012, until Boehner and others persuaded him to hold off until a non-presidential election year when Republicans would have a better chance electing a replacement in his district.
“It wasn’t the most important consideration for me, but it does look like it’s going to be a very good year and we'll be able to keep the seat,” Latham, 65, said in an interview.
Hastings, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, cited his recent 73rd birthday in a retirement statement in February. The Washington state Republican was first elected in 1994 as part of the Gingrich-led Republican “revolution” that was propelled by their “Contract with America.”
Rogers, 50, stunned many by announcing he'll retire and leave his coveted chairman position one that reviews many of the U.S.’s closely held national-security secrets for a job as a radio talk-show host with Cumulus Media.
Along with Camp, Rogers is one of four veteran lawmakers from Michigan who have announced they'll leave after this session. The others are Democrat John Dingell, 87, the longest- serving U.S. House member, and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., 79, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Camp, 60, was first elected in 1990. Contributing to his retirement decision are Republican Party rules that prevent their lawmakers from sitting atop a committee for more than six years, whether they’re in the majority or not.
Those term limits meant Camp would have to give up his spot as Ways and Means Committee chairman and return to the 435- member chamber with much less influence. A similar dynamic led to a tearful retirement announcement by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon of California in January.
“This place can be frustrating a day or two during the week,” Rogers said during a brief interview at the Capitol this week.
– With assistance from Chris Christoff in Lansing and Richard Rubin and Greg Giroux in Washington.