Earlier this week, after the morning meeting of House Republicans, I found myself deep in a three-way conversation with California Rep. Tom McClintock and another reporter. The reporter’s questions were well-researched and dogged, ranging from previous House offers to entitlement reform to what “default” really meant for what the Senate might do next.
McClintock, a former candidate for governor of California, has plenty of question-dodging experience and proved to be a master evader, turning every question back to how “the House and the Senate are designed to come to independent judgments.” It felt a little useless, but I didn’t realize how useless it must have been to my colleague until McClintock left. At that moment the reporter who’d just pressed this congressman with at least 11 questions turned to me and asked: “Who was that?”
I tell this story not to disparage someone. Days earlier, I’d asked a colleague the exact same question after quizzing a white-haired, middle-aged Republican congressman with a Southern accent. (Hello, Rep. Mo Brooks.) The current House Republican majority, the 232 people who run half the Congress, is mostly male, mostly middle-aged, and mostly white, making it sometimes impossibly hard to differentiate one member from another.
That is one of the many reasons that the press corps—and readers, surely—have so much trouble identifying who really matters as the shutdown drags on. The Atlantic tried to identify “32 Republicans who caused the shutdown,” admitted it wasn’t “a comprehensive roll,” and then came back with a viral feature that has influenced how thousands of Facebook-using liberals now view the crisis. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York confidently cited “insiders” who insist that “about 30 House Republicans” backed the party into the defund Obamacare cul-de-sac. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza identified the 80 signatories of Rep. Mark Meadows’ defund-Obamacare letter as the “suicide caucus.” In an interview with Barney Frank, the New Republic referred to the holdouts in Congress as “these faceless Republicans,” and you can see why—no one even knows which faces to look for.
But we can try. There’s no easy way to accurately denote the unbending conservatives and the moderates in the House GOP. The “Tea Party caucus,” often cited as a guide to the party’s right wing, largely existed to rebrand Republicans who weren’t really members of the movement.
Much more useful: the Republican Study Committee, which consists of 164 dues-paying (literally) conservatives, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza’s “complete guide to understanding” House Republicans. Cillizza put Republicans into five groups, related to their votes on six bills: the fiscal cliff compromise of 2011, the 2013 vote for speaker, the Hurricane Sandy relief bill, the January 2013 debt-limit delay, the Violence Against Women Act, and the farm bill. Listed below are some of the key votes and stances that have identified the most hard-core Republicans. If a Republican is on this list, or voted against leadership on one of Cillizza’s items, assign a point. (I’m repeating two of Cillizza’s items, with a different emphasis.)
Speaker Boehner. On Jan. 3, 2013, 12 Republicans made their rebellious nature known by casting votes, in vain, against the party’s speaker. Which Republicans? Justin Amash (Mich.), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Tom Massie (Ky.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Steve Stockman (Texas), and Ted Yoho (Fla.).
No Budget, No Pay. On Jan. 23, House Republican leaders delayed the debt limit deadline by agreeing to lift it for most of the year as long as the Senate agreed to vote for a budget. Who voted for it? 199 Republicans and 86 Democrats. Who voted against it? 33 Republicans and 111 Democrats. Which Republicans? Justin Amash (Mich.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Doug Collins (Ga.), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Joe Heck (Nev.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Richard Hudson (N.C.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Peter King (N.Y.), Steve King (Iowa), Tom Massie (Ky.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Tom Petrie (Wis.), Ted Poe (Texas), Bill Posey (Fla.), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Mike Turner (Ohio), Roger Williams (Texas), and Ted Yoho (Fla.).
The Farm Bill. On June 20, House Republicans brought down their own farm bill—one that had been amended to cut food stamps—with 62 members voting no. On July 11, Republicans split the bill and passed only the farm aid component, losing 12 members anyway. Which Republicans? Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Cook (Calif.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), and Matt Salmon (Ariz.).
Defund Obamacare Act of 2013. On July 11, Georgia Rep. Tom Graves introduced the bill that would bar funds for the health care law—the bill that became the basis of the continuing resolution defunding Obamacare. Who signed it? 155 Republicans—most of the conference. But more importantly, 75 of these people signed the Mark Meadows letter. OK, which Republicans did both? Justin Amash (Mich.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Andy Barr (Ky.), Joe Barton (Texas), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), Gus Bilrakis (Fla.), Rob Bishop (Utah), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Doug Collins (Ga.), Mike Conaway (Texas), Rick Crawford (Ariz.), Steve Daines (Mon.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), Blake Farenthold (Texas), Chuck Fleischmann (Tenn.), John Fleming (La.), Bill Flores (Texas), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Tom Graves (Ga.), Tim Griffin (Ark.), Ralph Hall (Texas), George Holding (N.C.), Richard Hudson (N.C.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Steve King (Iowa), Jack Kingston (Ga.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Kenny Marchant (Texas), Tom Marino (Pa.), Tom Massie (Ky.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Luke Messer (Ind.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steven Palazzo (Mich.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Scott Perry (Pa.), Ted Poe (Texas), Mike Pompeo (Kan.), Bill Posey (Fla.), Phil Roe (Tenn.), Todd Rokita (Ind.), Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Steve Scalise (La.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Jason Smith (Mo.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Jackie Walorski (Ind.), Randy Weber (Texas), Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), Joe Wilson (S.C.), and Ted Yoho (Fla.).*
So, what have we learned from these ugly blocks of text?
- There’s a small group of a dozen Republicans who will always vote against the leadership, often enough to make the votes tight—but not enough to defeat them. After Cillizza, let’s call them the “Hell No” caucus, and agree that when Reps. Ted Yoho or Justin Amash announce their opposition to something, the leadership doesn’t care.
- There’s a larger group, about 60 Republicans, who’ll vote for a deal if needed, but will take every possible on-the-record stance against compromise. Call them the Heritage Action caucus, if that doesn’t cause any trademark issues.
- There really are more than 75 Republicans who have not signed on to any showpiece conservative bills or petitions, and a smaller number who vote with the leadership at all times. When New York Rep. Peter King appears on TV and swears that he has dozens of moderates ready to bolt and vote for a “clean CR,” he’s not wrong about the numbers—only about the motivations. It’s the Invisible Caucus, suburbanites with statewide dreams (Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach), committee chairmen who want to actually achieve things (Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers), and Boehner allies who do not fear primaries (Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson).
You could draw up a similar guide for Democrats, but it wouldn’t be as complicated. Only five House Democrats represent districts carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. Only five declined to sign a letter from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledging to support a “clean” continuing resolution—three from that first group, plus the budget hawks Reps. Ron Kind and Jim Cooper.
The Republican conference can show that sort of unity, too, and it has on all of the gimmicky bills produced during the shutdown. Republicans like King have lambasted the Gohmerts of their party, then voted with them. That isn’t because there’s a secret cabal of 30 conservatives holding the party hostage. It’s because most of the members are conservatives, and they’re more responsive to movement activists than to anyone in “the business community.” If you followed the “defund Obamacare” movement through the various profiles of a star, like Sen. Ted Cruz, you might have assumed that his crushing defeat would end the standoff. It didn’t. Whether the standoff ends is up to the anonymous likes of Reps. Chuck Fleischmann or Luke Messer, people that Jack Lew probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup.