When Mississippi Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo decided to back John Boehner for speaker of the House this week, he prompted the kind of fiery broadside from a tea party loyalist back home that reflects the turmoil that abounds within the Republican Party when strident conservatives meet regular conservatives.
Trying to avoid casting a “purely symbolic vote” that he knew would not keep Boehner from the speaker’s chair, Palazzo had a “man-to-man” meeting Boehner to air his “grievances.” Palazzo extracted what he called a pledge from Boehner to “stand up to the liberal agenda of President (Barack) Obama.”
But that wasn’t nearly enough for the tea party leader, Barry Neyrey.
“I believe he has betrayed us,” Neyrey, chairman of the South Mississippi Tea Party, complained Thursday. “I feel like he’s a coward. And that meeting with Boehner sounds like the wise guy visiting the don.”
“Dear Rep. Palazzo,” Neyrey posted on his Facebook page, “As chairman of the South Ms Tea Party, I will work tirelessly to see that you don’t get another term.”
The harsh rhetoric not only illustrates the kind of pressure Boehner faces from the right this congressional session, but it also shows that Palazzo and other conservative Republicans have their own ground to defend to find ways to dampen the discord.
In a phone interview, Palazzo pushed back gently while seeking to avoid a fight.
“I think people are preying off a lot of the fears, a lot of that frustration,” he said. “People are making money off of this, just like the megamedia channels. … Our continuous infighting is hurting the conservative movement.”
He said that groups that send out emails saying “do this, do that, call your congressman, those people aren’t from Mississippi. They don’t know the first thing about what their congressman’s doing.”
“All they’re doing is pushing an agenda. Many of them, all you see is the bottom of their emails saying, ‘Contribute here.’”
Palazzo said that he went into the Christmas holidays questioning how he could keep supporting Boehner “if a viable conservative emerges” to oppose him.
He said, however, that he “had to look the man (Boehner) in the eyes and tell him that my constituency is frustrated, they’re afraid. They don’t see things changing for the better.”
He said he asked Boehner, “Do you give me your word, Mr. Speaker, that we’re going to address the border security issue, that we’re going to address the national debt, that we’re going to restore the cuts to our men and women in uniform and that we’re going to get our men and women working again?”
“He gave me his word that he was, and that he’s going to stand up to this administration. He’s the speaker of the House. I’m going to give him an opportunity to prove that what he said is true.”
In a statement issued after the vote, Palazzo said that “after much prayer and deep reflection,” he concluded that Republican Reps. Louis Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida lacked the votes to threaten Boehner.
Boehner, he noted, has a conservative lifetime rating of 87 percent and, before he was elected speaker, was the eighth most conservative member of Congress.
Neyrey, however, was spoiling for a fight.
He said he was hoping for drastic change in Congress but after that vote, he doubts he’ll get it.
“It’s just an absolute mindset that we have to get as much money from Washington as we can get,” he said.
Neyrey hasn’t been a fan of Palazzo since a spat with the congressman over the National Defense Authorization Act.
“I didn’t fight him too hard last time,” said Neyrey, who spent most of his energy trying to get Chris McDaniel elected to the U.S. Senate. “But now I plan to.”
Hampton of the Sun Herald reported from Biloxi, Miss.