A few House Republicans sent a coded message with their seating arrangement during President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Conservative Republican Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Dave Brat of Virginia, and Rod Blum of Iowa all sat right behind the members of House leadership during the address. This was no coincidence. The three Republicans, all elected within the last three years, voted against giving John Boehner another term as speaker of the House. That vote—which highlighted an often acrimonious rift within the House Republican caucus, and which was surprisingly close—drew immediate retribution from the chamber’s top Republicans.
But at least a few of those renegades are ready to play nice, and that’s what they communicated Tuesday night.
“We said we’d get behind them after that vote,” said Massie, laughing.
Blum also chuckled about their seating choice: “As Congressman Massie said, we’re behind leadership 100 percent tonight.”
He added that they mentioned it to top Republicans, in case they weren’t clear. “We said, ‘Hey, we’re behind you 100 percent,’ ” Blum said. “ ‘We told you we would be.’ ”
Restoring damaged intracaucus relationships could be essential for Boehner to oversee an effective, muscular Congress. Twenty-four Republicans voted for someone other than the swarthy Ohioan as speaker, making a politically fraught move that put their committee assignments at risk. If Republican mutinies of that size prove the norm over the next few months, then the speaker will have to rely more heavily on Democrats to pass key legislation. That’s a dicey prospect, to put it politely.
But with Tuesday night’s seating, a few of those mutineers extended a bit of an olive branch to their leader. If there’s more where that came from, that will bode well for Republican amicability in the coming months—as well as the Republican agenda within Congress.