It’s hard to imagine a weaker Speaker of the House than John Boehner, but the reelection vote yesterday takes him down another peg. Boehner already couldn’t deliver his caucus on multiple key votes of the 2011-12 session, and this will make it even harder to keep them together.
But Mr. Boehner received 220 votes out of 232 Republicans in the House, not counting Mr. Boehner himself. (The prospective speaker traditionally does not vote, or votes “present,” although former Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted for herself in the 110th and 111th Congress). Mr. Boehner received the votes of 95 percent of his caucus. Is that really that humiliating?
Judged against recent history, at least, the answer is yes. Mr. Boehner’s 95 percent support level might not seem that terrible, but the vote for speaker has historically been a fait accompli. The 12 defections Mr. Boehner suffered are more than in any other speaker’s election in over two decades. Our database shows all votes for speaker since 1991 and Mr. Boehner is just the third speaker since then to face more than one defection. And since the 102nd Congress was sworn at the beginning of 1991, no representative elected speaker has received a smaller share of his or her party’s vote.