If only they succeeded in dethroning Boehner.
Republicans took full control of Congress on Tuesday, but — even on a day of happy ceremony — GOP leaders were reminded of the limits of their power, first by a veto threat from the president and then by a historic rebellion by conservatives in the House.
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was sworn in as majority leader, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time in eight years. That was the day’s most important shift, but it was anticlimactic: McConnell spoke only briefly, conscious that he was holding up the post-oath receptions.
“Tomorrow, it’s back to work,” he said. “I yield the floor.”
The day’s real drama was, instead, in the House. There, Republican control was not in doubt: After last fall’s electoral victories, the GOP has 246 of the chamber’s 435 seats, its largest majority since the 1940s.
What was in doubt was which Republican would lead.
When a clerk called the roll, 24 Republicans voted for a candidate other than the incumbent speaker, John A. Boehner (Ohio). The plotters couldn’t agree on their own candidate: They voted for one another, and for two sitting senators.
In the end, their rebellion was not enough to unseat Boehner: The speaker won on the first round with 216 votes, 11 more than he needed. But it was far larger than a similar coup attempt against Boehner in 2013. In fact, it was the largest rebellion by a party against its incumbent speaker since the Civil War.
After he won, Boehner entered to a standing ovation and gave a speech calling this Congress to work together and end its gridlock. He finished with a stirring, though epically mixed, metaphor.
“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”
Still, even before the day’s ceremonies were over, there was a sign of a coming fight with President Obama. One of the new Congress’s top legislative priorities is a bill to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But Tuesday, a spokesman said Obama would veto such a bill, believing that it circumvents an established process for approving large pipeline projects.
Read more: Washington Post