The freshman resistance caused feuds among Boehner and his lieutenants that led some to fear a mutiny, heightened several showdowns with President Obama and eventually led to fissures among the rookies, pitting those who seldom trusted the leaders against those who reflexively did, according to “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” an account of the freshman class’s impact by Robert Draper.
The infighting reached such a point in the fall that some newcomers requested that the weekly freshman meetings be disbanded because they had turned into shouting matches, with freshmen loudly criticizing the leaders.
“You’ve created a monster,” Rep. Renee L. Ellmers (R-N.C.), a former nurse elected in 2010, warned House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), according to Draper’s book.
The importance of the freshmen has subsided as the House and Senate have scaled back their agendas heading into the fall elections, but the group is poised to play a pivotal role in a lame-duck session in which Congress must reach a compromise to keep more than $5 trillion worth of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts from kicking in Jan. 1.
Draper’s book was based on interviews with more than 50 House members, including some freshmen he interviewed more than a dozen times, as well as many current and former senior aides.
The resulting work paints a different picture than the one often presented by Boehner’s leadership team, which frequently proclaimed that there was no “freshman problem,” noting that the group’s overall voting patterns were similar to those of the rest of the GOP conference.
The book, which will be released Tuesday, shows just how much energy had to be expended on the 87 freshmen who took their oath in January 2011, many of them holding office for the first time. Accounting for nearly 40 percent of Boehner’s conference, the freshmen exercised their clout early and often, imposing their will on the rest of the House Republicans.
Many freshmen viewed GOP leaders warily from the outset and compelled Boehner’s team to make the rookies the constant focus of its attention.
“I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) told the book’s author.
The first major bill brought the first revolt, when leaders presented a funding bill for federal agencies that cut $33 billion from the previous year’s tally. Labrador rushed to the microphones at the Capitol basement meeting to promote the $100 billion in cuts that had been promised in the 2010 campaign manifesto. “To me $100 billion isn’t the ceiling; it’s the floor,” the freshman said. Moments later, Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-Fla.), a funeral home operator who won a previously Democratic seat in 2010, issued a warning to Boehner: “I will hold you accountable to the promises that you made.”