The GOP leadership in the House is selling a counterstory to the "brave anti-spending Republicans smacked down by craven leadership" story connected to the loss of committee assignments by four Republicans known for bucking leadership in a more small-government, small-spending direction. (They are Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) from the House Budget Committee, Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) from Financial Services Committee.) I have blogged about one of the purged, Rep. Justin Amash, fighting back publicly yesterday and last week.
The new story? It isn't that the purged were too conservative; they were just uncollegial assholes. Politico's take:
In an interview with POLITICO, one member of the Steering Committee called them "the most egregious a—holes" in the House Republican Conference.
The argument: This went beyond voting records. The members who were booted made life harder for other Republicans by taking whacks at them in public for supporting the team, according to Republican sources familiar with the Steering Committee's decision…..
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a conservative who is close to party leaders, told them that "the a—hole factor" came into play in the Steering decision.
"He said that it had nothing to do with their voting record, a scorecard, or their actions across the street [meaning fundraising]," Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told POLITICO. "It had to do with their inability to work with other members, which some people might refer to as the a—hole factor."
Shedd said her boss didn't intend to call anyone a name and acknowledged later to her that "perhaps he should have said obstinate factor instead and wanted me to reiterate that he did not and would not call another member of Congress an a—hole."
Politico goes on to point out that booting from committees is a pretty nuclear option for House leadership in recent times:
these were the first members pulled off committees as punishment for political or personality reasons in nearly two decades. Even Tom DeLay, the fearsome majority leader known for hardball tactics, drew the line there.
More from Roll Call
[Rep. John] Fleming [(R-La.)] said…[it is] becoming more apparent that the members were removed for actions that constituted "friendly fire," or directing rhetorical barbs at members of their own party.
"There have been several members to stand up and say, 'You know, I kind of agree with leadership. You said some things that was a problem for me,'" he said. "There have been members and leadership who feel that it's one thing to vote and even message what you feel, but don't hurt your colleagues and don't hurt your leadership in doing that. In other words, don't go out and use other members who are supposed to be part of your army and make them the target of your rhetoric as well."
This "asshole" explanation isn't a distinct and different one from the "we were purged for being too serious about spending." It actually compounds the problem for those who are angry at leadership for a perceived lack of seriousness on spending.
This story says that, spending aside, actually trying to be a public voice pushing the party in a better direction on spending compounds the problem and makes you more worthy of being punished. It's not that "these are unpleasant people and bad colleagues and we don't want them around"; it's that they aren't just content to vote against bad stuff and then be quiet about it.
If the leadership thinks that this explanation is going to mollify the ideal Tea Party type who seriously see themselves as dedicated to making sure the Republican Party is good on spending issues, that seems highly unlikely. Such activists want their congressional champions to not only vote right, but to pressure their colleagues to do so as well. For those likely to care at all about the purged, the asshole factor is a feature, not a bug, as the kids on their computers say.
Amash and fellow purged Huelskamp talk about how they still have not had the exact reasons for their treatment explained to them, and more, on the radio with Sean Hannity. Some highlights from that: Amash says that his score on the still-mysterious scorecard used to judge and purge him by House leadership was, he was told by someone he won't name, a "zero." "Those who voted for more government were given positive scores," Amash believes. Amash says he's unhappy about the likely results of a leadership-approved tax and spending deal on the "fiscal cliff" negotations.