Washington (CNN)House Speaker John Boehner is no longer just taking hits from the right, as moderate Republicans are pulling him back in his direction as well.
GOP moderates, right wing have Boehner tug-of-war
As he gets ready to take on the most volatile issue yet in the new Congress -- how to avoid a potential shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of money at the end of February -- Boehner has to maneuver demands from both sides of his conference.
As has become recent tradition the Speaker is facing familiar criticism from conservative members, who complain he isn't being aggressive enough in responding to the President's executive actions on immigration. But he's also getting flak from centrist GOP members, who are showing a new willingness to resist going along with legislation they think those in the right wing of their party is pushing too far.
The result: votes on two major politically significant bills to Republican activists -- one banning late term abortions and one on border security -- have been postponed indefinitely.
In the last four weeks Boehner had to beat back a challenge in his re-election to a third term as Speaker, manage a divisive vote on immigration policy, defend a late night decision to pull an abortion bill after several GOP women complained it was too extreme. He was also forced to shelve a GOP border bill, which he hoped would be the first step in his effort to reform the immigration system.
"There have been a couple of stumbles," the Speaker admitted to reporters Tuesday.
Two House Republicans lamented to CNN that the series of high profile internal fights were hurting morale and frustrating those who hoped the new session would feature a series of legislative accomplishments instead of fumbles.
"We were promised it would get better," one of these Republicans, who spoke under anonymity to speak freely about private discussions, told CNN.
In a closed door meeting with rank and file members earlier this week Boehner pledged that things would get back on track, according to GOP sources who attended. He conceded that he and his leadership team moved legislation to the floor without going through "regular order" because committees were still being formed and they wanted to start addressing key priorities out of the gate. Going forward the Speaker said members would have more time to review legislation before votes.
Boehner is no stranger to complaints from his right flank. Internal skirmishes among House GOP members were a hallmark of his first four years. On the first day of the new Congress Boehner beat back a challenge from a group of 25 mostly conservatives who wanted to force a change in leadership.
But even some of those who voted for Boehner for his third term aren't convinced he's listening, so they started a new initiative they say will help keep him honest.
"Many of us feel here in Washington that politicians go back home and make promises and then they forget them when they get here," Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador told CNN.
Earlier this week Labrador and eight other House Republicans announced the formation of a new group called the "House Freedom Caucus." These members had already been meeting informally to discuss how they could more effectively push for conservative policies. Labrador said the existing group of fiscal conservatives, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) had grown too big and that these members wanted "something more than a debating society."
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a longtime critic of Boehner's, told CNN he is still waiting to hear how House GOP leaders will fight to roll back Obamacare, fight the President's policies on immigration, and vote on measures that represent the party's position on major social issues.
"I see no strategic path to do what we promised to do on any of these issues - they just all just seem to be endlessly going nowhere," Huelskamp said.
As some of the right continue to bristle, the larger House majority also includes a segment of centrist members who are wielding new influence. In recent years fears of getting a primary challenge from the right meant most members didn't publicly break ranks with the mostly conservative House Republican conference.
But two times in the last four weeks more moderate members demonstrated they can impact the House agenda. Several GOP women opposed provisions of the House GOP late term abortion bill would turn off young voters and women. Even though leadership aides thought the bill could still pass they abruptly pulled it because they wanted to avoid the optics of women opposing one of the first major bills.
Another segment of House Republicans rebelled against an immigration amendment championed by conservatives. The proposal, which was attached to a spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security would effectively end the Administration's policies that deferred the deportation of those children who were brought to the U.S. by immigrant parents entering the country illegally. Twenty six moderate GOP members voted against it, saying it went too far. It wasn't enough to block the amendment, but it was a notable group that could be a force in future immigration debates.
Many of these centrist members who represent competitive districts see a small window of time for Congress to produce results before the attention turns to the 2016 election. They stress that their colleagues need to be realistic about what can get through both chambers -- especially when Republicans don't have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
"There are a lot of members who came her to govern like myself and who see this as an opportunity. Let's not lose this opportunity, let's not squander it. Let's get it done and that to me what's motivating a lot of members," Rep Tom Reed, of New York told CNN.
Boehner starts his second month as Speaker with a vote on an issue that unites House Republicans -- repealing Obamacare.
The measure will pass easily, but bringing up the issue raises the question about how the GOP would replace the health care law. The Speaker has committed to coming up with an alternative, but the internal divisions among his members about who would need to be covered and how to structure a new system will likely showcase the splits among House Republicans.
But the Speaker doesn't appeared to be phased by the rough first month, or the fights ahead over immigration, the debt ceiling, tax reform and other issues.
Asked in an interview on Fox News on Wednesday if this would be his last term, Boehner waved off the question, saying, "No, I'll be here for a while."