Political Animal


May 23, 2011 3:30 PM Boehner’s loyalty tests

By Steve Benen

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a right-wing Republican from Utah, shared a rather remarkable story about House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“I was very skeptical of him,” remembers Chaffetz, who regarded the educational law as a federal intrusion on states. “He wasn’t as conservative as I wanted him to be.”

There was also a stylistic and generational divide between them, which Chaffetz noticed immediately when he met Boehner. “He’s sort of the Rat Pack/Dean Martin type, you know, with the cigarette in the hand and the tan and the deep growly voice,” Chaffetz says. “He started in the hole with me.”

Boehner, who largely controlled committee assignments, had casually asked what House committees Chaffetz might want to serve on. Chaffetz answered that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was his top choice.

Chaffetz received a call from Boehner aide Trevor Kolego shortly before the announcement of committee assignments. Kolego said he had bad news: Chaffetz had not been selected for the oversight committee. Worse, he was being assigned to committees he had specified as among his least desirable.

A crestfallen Chaffetz took a deep breath, as he remembers. Searching for a graceful response, he asked Kolego to thank Boehner and reaffirmed his support for the leader.

Kolego called Chaffetz back the same day and said, “Congratulations. You got all three committees you wanted.”

Chaffetz exulted, but asked, “What happened?”

“Oh, that’s just John,” Kolego replied, as Chaffetz remembers. “He wanted to figure out what kind of [expletive] you were going to be.”

It led Jon Chait to note an interesting anecdote of his own: “When Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, he had a devious scheme for rooting out potential dissidents. Members of his government would be startled by a small team of officials bursting in to announce they were undertaking a coup against Saddam — were you with them? It was a ruse, of course. Anybody who sided with the plotters would be executed.”

Now, obviously, the point here isn’t to equate Boehner with the Butcher of Baghdad. Rather, the point is, insecure leaders who get a little paranoid — or maybe more than a little — start wondering who they can really trust.

In Congress, Boehner may be the Speaker, but he doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he’s all too aware of the fissures that separate him from the “Young Guns” triumvirate of Eric Cantor (Majority Leader), Kevin McCarthy (Majority Whip), and Paul Ryan (Budget Committee chairman).

It’s apparently left Boehner with some, shall we say, trust issues. It’s not exactly the mark of a confident, secure caucus leader.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • blondie on May 23, 2011 3:39 PM:

    That's a funny story, but I got a different message from it: "Hey, you freshman punk, you may think you're a rebel leader and that you get to judge me - but I'm the one with the authority around here."

  • hell's littlest angel on May 23, 2011 4:00 PM:

    I'm not able to understand the point of that story without understanding what "[expletive]" refers to. Jerkoff? Bastard? Motherfucker? Pussy? Fuckhead? The [expletive] is in the details. I need closure!

  • c u n d gulag on May 23, 2011 4:06 PM:

    So, the old loose cannon is afraid of the young guns, is he?

    hells littlest angel,
    My money's on either 'asshole' or 'dickhead, though you do provide a nice starting spot - and any of them could well be the missing expletive.

  • June on May 23, 2011 4:15 PM:

    I can't help it; whenever I read something like: “He wasn’t as conservative as I wanted him to be,” it translates to: "He's not as moonbat-crazy, delusional, savagely cruel and incompetent as I wanted him to be."

  • ManOutOfTime on May 23, 2011 4:17 PM:

    @hell's littlest angel - My money's on the "N-word."

  • chi res on May 23, 2011 4:25 PM:

    ManOutOfTime: My money's on the "N-word."


  • Ron Byers on May 23, 2011 4:41 PM:

    I agree that Boehner's little test wasn't necessarily a sign of weakness, it was more likely an attempt to find out who could be trusted to carry the party's water and a demonstration of Boehner's power.

    Most of the young rebels will be gone in 2012. Boehner's support will keep some of the more promising rebels in the house. He needs to find out who has the makings of a company man he will want to support.

  • gasb on May 23, 2011 4:48 PM:

    Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean somebody's not out to get you.

  • clone12 on May 23, 2011 5:02 PM:

    So does mean Jason Chaffetz will be relegated to the House Committee on kickball management 2 years from now because he ratted out Boehner by relating this story for all to see?

  • beep52 on May 23, 2011 5:34 PM:

    Nixon metastasized.

  • Nancy on May 24, 2011 1:38 AM:

    get set for another CRY SESSION. Poor Baby.

  • markg8 on May 24, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I'd be surprised if any leader from any party handed over plum committee assignments to members who said nasty things about him or her publicly. Rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies is how you wind up with strong friends and weak enemies. Boehner's future doesn't look rosy regardless. He's already lost round one of the budget fight to Obama with the $38 billion budget cuts that was actually $3 billion in hikes and he's pretty much in a no win situation on the next one. His choices are to force a irresponsible very expensive default on the federal debt or "win" spending cuts Americans despise.