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The Hard-Line Republicans Who Pushed John Boehner Out

“He’s not going anywhere.” That’s what Kevin Smith, the communications director for the Speaker of the House, said about his boss, John Boehner, in a Time article published Thursday. “If there’s a small crew of members who think that he’s just going to pick up and resign in the middle of his term, they are going to be sadly mistaken,” he said.

But just a day later, a small crew of House members who wanted Boehner gone got their wish. On Friday, Boehner told his fellow House Republicans that he would quit the post at the end of October. He apparently was bowing to pressure from some members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of more than 30 of the most conservative Republicans who wanted Boehner to push harder to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it meant shutting down the government next week. If all members of the caucus had voted to oust Boehner, he would not have had a Republican majority to keep his job.

Some members of the group reportedly wanted Boehner out of the speaker’s chair, though others reportedly told Boehner on Thursday that the caucus didn’t plan to introduce a motion to force him out. At a news conference Friday explaining his decision to resign, Boehner said, “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”

Who is this small crew of members?

The Freedom Caucus doesn’t have a website or official roster. Roll Call listed 38 members in July, including 15 of the 25 representatives who voted against Boehner in the speaker’s election in January. One of the 38 members, California’s Tom McClintock, resigned from the caucus last week, writing in a letter to the caucus’s chairman that the group’s tactics “have repeatedly undermined the House’s ability to advance” conservative principles. That leaves a list of 37 members we think are in the caucus.

As a group, Freedom Caucus members are more male and more conservative than the rest of the Republican caucus, with less time in office, and they were elected in districts that lean more heavily Republican than the typical Republican representative’s district.

Just one of the 37 members is a woman — Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming — a much lower proportion than the 10 percent of the other Republican representatives who are women.1 The average caucus member is in a third term, compared with a fifth term for other Republicans.

Caucus members’ votes are more distant from those of Democrats than are those of other Republicans, according to the vote-polarization measurement system DW-Nominate. Their average district has a Partisan Voting Index of R+14 — meaning that it votes Republican 14 percentage points more than the nation as a whole — compared with an average of R+11 in other House districts won by Republicans in 2012. Their average district’s population is 10 percent African-American and 10.4 percent Hispanic, compared with 9.6 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively, in other Republican-won districts.

Gary Palmer AL-6 1 R+28 5
Brian Babin TX-36 1 R+25 16
Tim Huelskamp KS-1 3 R+23 18
Cynthia M. Lummis WY 4 R+22 20
Paul A. Gosar AZ-4 3 R+20 25
Barry Loudermilk GA-11 1 R+19 29
Raul R. Labrador ID-1 3 R+18 38
Jim Bridenstine OK-1 2 R+18 41
Jeff Duncan SC-3 3 R+18 42
Scott Desjarlais TN-4 3 R+18 44
Matt Salmon AZ-5 5 R+17 46
Mo Brooks AL-5 3 R+17 49
Ted Poe TX-2 6 R+16 56
Trent Franks AZ-8 7 R+15 66
H. Morgan Griffith VA-9 3 R+15 69
Andy Harris MD-1 3 R+14 72
Jody B. Hice GA-10 1 R+14 75
Mark Meadows NC-11 2 R+13 85
Marlin A. Stutzman IN-3 4 R+13 88
John Fleming LA-4 4 R+13 94
David Schweikert AZ-6 3 R+12 95
Curt Clawson FL-19 2 R+12 99
Ken Buck CO-4 1 R+11 110
Alex Mooney WV-2 1 R+11 113
Mark Sanford SC-1 5 R+11 118
Dave Brat VA-7 2 R+10 130
Keith J. Rothfus PA-12 2 R+9 136
Bill Posey FL-8 4 R+9 137
Jim Jordan OH-4 5 R+9 138
Ron DeSantis FL-6 2 R+9 139
Scott Perry PA-4 2 R+9 140
Mick Mulvaney SC-5 3 R+9 142
Stevan Pearce NM-2 6 R+5 186
Justin Amash MI-3 3 R+4 196
Scott Garrett NJ-5 7 R+4 202
Reid J. Ribble WI-8 3 R+2 228
Rod Blum IA-1 1 D+5 282

The Freedom Caucus members aren’t homogenous demographically, politically or in their attitude toward Boehner. Many of the caucus members, though, had come out publicly against Boehner and against any budget deal that funded Planned Parenthood, while also espousing other conservative, hard-line positions. Here’s a look at four of the more outspoken members of the group:

Gary Palmer, whose district is in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, is the most Republican of any caucus member’s, said last week that the Planned Parenthood funding issue “is really about subsidizing the killing and mutilation of babies with taxpayers’ money.” When he took office in January, Palmer said his differences with Boehner include “this whole thing about the president’s executive orders and not aggressively challenging them, even going to court.”2 Palmer voted against Boehner that month in the ballot for speaker.

Lummis, who represents the entire state of Wyoming, backed Boehner in the January vote but said she did so because it wasn’t the right time to vote against him. An episode of her Cattle Call YouTube series last month blasted Planned Parenthood. In June, Republican leaders removed her from the whip team when she opposed a trade agreement backed by business-oriented Republicans and President Obama, whom she said she doesn’t trust “with a clod of dirt, let alone international trade deals.” She issued Facebook and Twitter posts on Sept. 11 commemorating both the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Mark Meadows of North Carolina, one of the founders of the caucus, submitted a House resolution in July declaring the office of the speaker vacant. The resolution cited seven reasons, including that “the Speaker uses the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker.” After Boehner announced his resignation, Meadows released a statement that said, “It is of the utmost importance that our new leadership reflect the diverse makeup of the House Republican Conference.” CNN has called Meadows “the architect” of the 2013 government shutdown.

Justin Amash, another founding member of the caucus and one of the youngest members of Congress at age 35, tweeted earlier this month:

The New York Times profiled Amash in 2011 as the House’s most contrarian Republican after he opposed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood because he said it was “arguably unconstitutional” to target a single entity in a bill. He added that “the legislation is easily thwarted because the organization may simply change its name.”


  1. Caucus members don’t differ much in age from other Republican members of the House: The average age of Freedom Caucus members is 54.5 years, while the average age of non-caucus members is 56.2. Also, three of the caucus members (Ron DeSantis, Raul Labrador and Alex Mooney) are Latino, which is higher than the proportion of Latinos among all other Republicans in the House.

  2. Boehner has sued or threatened to sue President Obama several times, including over the president’s executive actions on immigration and the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

Aaron Bycoffe is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.