John Boehner is facing his toughest week yet as speaker of the House of Representatives – and that’s saying a lot after a tumultuous four years of repeated efforts by his own Republican colleagues to derail his legislative agenda and take away his gavel.
The speaker has five days before a short-term bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security runs out on Friday, though his practical deadline is actually Thursday night, as a bipartisan group of about 100 lawmakers is scheduled to travel to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for civil rights.
Once again, Boehner is facing off with a conservative bloc that refuses to back any bill that doesn’t end President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Close Boehner allies worry that some of these conservatives might use their disagreement with Boehner over DHS as a reason to try to force him out.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, a supporter of Boehner’s, acknowledged on CNN on Sunday, “Those rumors are out there.”
But Dent predicted any attempt to oust the speaker would fail, and he urged fellow Republicans to pass the clean DHS funding bill the Senate passed last week and move on from the internal drama.
“It’s important for us to demonstrate that we can function,” Dent said.
Those close to the speaker say that how he handles the next few days could determine whether the tensions with those on right flank of the GOP conference ease, or intensify with yet another effort to thwart his plan on the House floor and further weaken his speakership.
One important factor helping Boehner – conservatives who want him out have no leading candidate to replace him and no organized strategy to remove him.
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House Freedom Caucus – a group expressly established to force Boehner to the right – was pressed by CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday about a potential effort to remove Boehner.
“That’s not going to happen,” he said, signaling the group may be unhappy but they aren’t at the point of launching a coup.
On Friday, Boehner’s effort to get a three-week measure to fund the agency was taken down when tea party conservatives – who view compromise as a four-letter word – joined up with Democrats.
The House passed a bill funding DHS for one week, thanks to House Democrats decision to support the shorter stopgap, narrowly averting a partial shutdown. But 55 House Republicans opposed the move.
It was yet another public embarrassment in a string of them for Boehner.
It’s likely that conservative groups will stick together and vote “no” on any measure that doesn’t also attempt to address the President’s immigration policies.
That means Boehner will again need to turn to Democrats to help him avoid a shutdown.
House conservatives had pressed for the House and Senate create a conference committee to merge the House-passed bill with Senate DHS funding measure But as expected, the Senate on Monday failed to advance a motion to do so. The vote needed 60 to pass but only got 47.
“Going to conference,” as it is known on Capitol Hill, was a primary reason why conservatives voted against the three-week extension. However, Senate Democrats, who have no desire to negotiate changes to the clean DHS bill that already passed the Senate, vowed to block the measure.
Democrats believe now they have demonstrated to the House conservatives that going to conference is not achievable, they might accept a longer-term funding bill for DHS.
With the failed vote, Boehner’s attempt to shift the focus to the Senate on this issue, has fallen flat.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who has been pressing for a House vote on the clean Senate bill, said on ABC on Sunday that Boehner has to find a way to bring up that bill.
“There’s no doubt it will pass,” he said.
What’s unclear now is how Boehner gets to that point.
With the Selma march and the Friday night deadline looming, House GOP members will huddle with leaders on Tuesday morning to discuss next steps. Democrats believe the speaker agreed to a deal on Friday to bring up a clean funding bill once they agreed to provide the votes to pass the short term measure last week, something Boehner’s office denies.
Despite the chaos, one thing remains clear: The only way out for Boehner is to agree to the plan Democrats support.
CNN’s Dana Bash contributed to this report.