‘‘I feel like the dog who caught the car,’’ Boehner said when he returned to GOP leadership.
He caught it again two years ago, when Republicans reclaimed control of the House in 2010, then elected him speaker.
Boehner’s frequent travel and work on behalf of fellow House Republicans in the run-up to the 2012 elections are one reason that losses in the House were minimized and loyalty to the speaker maximized. He raised more than $97 million for Republicans running for Congress, traveling almost nonstop for the last 45 days leading up to elections.
‘‘From the perspective of the House members, they feel like they've gone through a pretty rough battle and they've survived, and that gives Boehner a lot more credibility,’’ says John Feehery, a former top House Republican aide.
Boehner, typically seen more as sheep-herder than arm-twister, has used that credibility to flex more muscle.
His leadership team this month ousted four outspoken legislators from sought-after committee assignments. The unexpected move prompted cries from the far right of a conservative purge meant to silence the speaker’s critics, a notion that Boehner’s office rejected.
‘‘You’re beginning to see visible manifestations of his increased position of strength inside the conference,’’ says Peters. ‘‘The far right of his party doesn’t have as much leverage on him as it had before.’’
They’re far from quiet, though.
At a recent ‘‘Conversations with Conservatives’’ event on Capitol Hill, legislators alternated between expressing sympathy for Boehner’s tough job and accusing him of botching it.
‘‘I appreciate the speaker, and he’s in a tough position — but look, who caused his position?’’ asked Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana.
‘‘If there’s any blame to be placed, it’s squarely on his shoulders.’’
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, still seething over losing a plum committee seat, said if Boehner wants to visit his district, ‘‘he’s not going to be met with very much welcome.’’
‘‘I spent a lot of time saying stuff about, ‘Speaker Boehner’s doing the best job he can do.’ I did that for a year, a year and a half,’’ Amash said. ‘‘We’re not doing the best job we can do. ... We can do a lot better.’’
The conservative griping and uncertainty about the debt talks have raised speculation that Boehner could face a challenge in January’s leadership elections. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Boehner may be trying to string along the debt talks until after the Jan. 3 vote.
Boehner insists he’s not worried about his position, but rather about ‘‘doing the right thing for my kids and grandkids.’’
The big question is whether Boehner’s caucus will back him if he and Obama craft a ‘‘grand bargain’’ to reduce the federal deficit that includes more new revenues than many Republicans can stomach.
‘‘I just think he needs to negotiate the best deal possible that actually comports with our principles,’’ says Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho. ‘‘There are some deals that will be bad for all of us, and there are some deals that maybe I can’t support but they’re the best deals that he can get.’’
Boehner’s supporters think that if it comes down to a choice between his job and a deal that puts the country on a better economic path, the speaker would choose the latter.
‘‘I don’t think he’s here to do small things,’’ says Feehery. ‘‘One thing that you understand when you have the speaker’s job is that you’re not going to hold this forever.’’
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