WASHINGTON – Let us cast no aspersions on Louie Gohmert’s asparagus.
Neither should we curse his cauliflower, defame his dandelion greens, libel his leeks, slander his spinach, hex his horseradish nor give grief to his garlic.
Yet however laudably we treat Gohmert’s legumes, it must be said that he is full of beans if he thinks he is going to be speaker of the House.
The Texas Republican – who has announced his intention to challenge John Boehner to become speaker in the new Congress – is a conservative backbencher who has made his reputation by giving endless speeches for C-SPAN on the empty House floor, by making zany proposals such as ending the direct election of senators and by his committee-room explosions, such as when he complained of Attorney General Eric Holder casting “aspersions on my asparagus.”
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The sixth-term lawmaker joins Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, a two-term libertarian who warded off a primary challenge from a man who liked to dress as a vampire, in offering themselves as prospective speakers. Yoho endorsed the “birther” accusation against President Obama and has questioned the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He also spoke favorably of a default on the federal debt and of allowing only property owners to vote.
Gohmert and Yoho are but stalking horses, part of a scheme by conservatives to try to deny Boehner the 218 votes he needs to return as speaker in the new Congress. That means persuading 29 Republicans to vote for anybody other than Boehner.
This probably won’t happen. “It’s very much an uphill climb,” said Matt Kibbe, who as head of the tea party group FreedomWorks is leading the campaign to depose Boehner.
The sweeping electoral victory for House Republicans in November was, paradoxically, not necessarily a good development for conservatives. Republicans padded their majority by 13 seats, and the number of Republicans loyal to Boehner grew by about 15 – meaning Boehner can afford to lose the votes of the most hard-core conservatives, about two dozen in total, and still get legislation passed. If he’s willing to woo a few Democrats, he can all but ignore the far right in his caucus for the next two years.
But the speaker vote is different. It’s unlikely that any Democrat will vote for Boehner for speaker, so he needs to persuade 218 of the 246 House Republicans. Ten have already declared their intention not to vote for Boehner, and the tea party set is gunning for 19 more.
“From a grass-roots perspective, this is probably the hottest issue we’ve mobilized on since Obamacare,” Kibbe told me. Over 48 hours, FreedomWorks claims, activists have sent 10,000 electronic messages to lawmakers through the website www.stopboehner.com and placed 2,000 calls. (There is no such campaign against Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip from Louisiana. Scalise was recently discovered to have addressed a white-supremacist group 12 years ago, but his conservative fealty is unquestioned.)
The biennial election of speaker is always a bit of a freak show. Two years ago, 16 Republicans used the occasion to express their displeasure with Boehner. Three of them (including Yoho) voted for Eric Cantor (Va.), two (including Gohmert) for Allen West (who was no longer in Congress) and one for Jim Jordan (Ohio). Rep. Tom Massie (Ky.) voted for Justin Amash (Mich.), who voted for Raul Labrador (Idaho), who along with Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) was in the chamber but refused to vote for anybody. Walter Jones (N.C.) voted for David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general who is not a member of Congress, while Steve Stockman (Texas) voted present. Four others refused to vote for Boehner when their names were called but later gave their votes when his victory was assured.
When freak shows play in the House, would-be speaker Gohmert is usually in the cast. Arguing against gun control, he drew a link between gay marriage and bestiality. He has alleged that there are “so many Muslim Brotherhood members” in the Obama administration and that radical Islamist terrorists are being trained to “act like Hispanic” and cross the southern border. He has warned of terrorists sending pregnant women into America to give birth to “terror babies” who would have U.S. citizenship.
“I think Louie Gohmert would make a great speaker,” Kibbe, the leader of the dump-Boehner movement, told me, “but I’m not sure that he gets there.”
He won’t, and it has nothing to do with vegetables. It’s because he and the others trying to oust Boehner sound as if they’re nuts.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.