In the old days, Washington, D.C., insiders would have thought it political suicide for a second-term congressman to call for the ouster of his party’s Speaker of the House of Representatives.
But in these days of high-polling mavericks and political outsiders, that’s the recipe for re-election – especially if you hail from the conservative 11th Congressional District in the western North Carolina mountains.
Consider the case of Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who in July filed a two-page motion in the House asking for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to be removed from leadership.
He was briefly stripped of a committee chairmanship, but gained much more: The attention of Tea Party conservatives who feel marginalized and manipulated.
Breitbart.com, a leading conservative news site, recently published a long, admiring article that calls Meadows “John Boehner’s Worst Nightmare.” The Washington Post dubbed him “The Donald Trump of the House of Representatives.”
Meadows, a mild-mannered small businessman from Cashiers, told Breitbart.com that all he’s doing is listening to his constituents and taking their agenda to Washington.
Which is what any congressman should do. But what happens when that agenda runs into the equally sincere and diametrically opposite agenda of citizens from other parts of the country?
It used to mean that we sought compromise, and everyone got a little of what they want. But in today’s Washington, it means nobody gets anything – at all.
That’s why our roads and bridges are crumbling, and why we have no national plan to revive our dying middle class. It’s also why Meadows could turn out to be the poster boy for the next government shutdown.
Some are saying his motion in the House, which accuses Boehner of letting the executive and judicial branches muscle power away from Congress, could serve as a sword of Damocles hanging over the perennially embattled speaker’s head.
Should Boehner prove himself insufficiently tough in upcoming budget negotiations, the Iran nuclear deal or defunding Planned Parenthood, he could find himself begging for votes to fend off Meadows’ removal motion. If Boehner toes the hard line, we could see another government shutdown.
In generations past, congressional pragmatists like Bob Dole and Tip O’Neill worked across partisan lines to ameliorate, if not solve, the nation’s problems.
Now, with districts like the 11th carefully crafted to minimize re-election risks to parties and politicians, the art of compromise has been replaced by the art of combat.
The disastrous 2013 shutdown showed the high price of such politics. Hopefully, our leaders aren’t willing to pay it again.