John Boehner was re-elected Speaker of the House Thursday afternoon — but by a tellingly narrow margin.
Between a slightly diminished Republican majority in the lower chamber, and a small but growing chorus of detractors within his own party, Boehner’s re-election came down to the wire, and was only assured near the end of the roll call, when he finally banked enough votes to guarantee his victory.
To be elected Speaker, a candidate must win support from a majority of voting members. In a full 435-member House, if every member votes for a viable candidate, the Speaker must win 218 votes.
This House currently has 433 members, which meant Boehner needed 217 to guarantee his re-election. But some members voted present or abstained, reducing the total Boehner needed to win a majority of those casting actual ballots to 214 votes.
In the end, Boehner won 220 votes — enough to win in a full House with everyone casting actual ballots. As it was today, that was 6 votes more than the minimum he needed to win.
But he heard the warning.
The Fire Boehner gang of more than a dozen aggrieved House conservatives could conceivably have forced Boehner into a second ballot if they’d organized and made a point of casting viable votes.
Instead, nine Republicans officially defected.
Three — Reps. Jim Bridestine (R-OK), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Ted Yoho (R-FL) — voted for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Two — Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) — voted for former Rep. Allen West (R-FL).
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) voted for Rep. Raul Labrador.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) voted for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) voted for Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).
And Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) voted for former GAO comptroller David Walker.
Before the vote came to an end, another eight Republicans, seven Boehner foes and Boehner himself, had abstained from voting. With a more concerted effort, anti-Boehner Republicans could have brought Boehner’s victory margin to a single vote.
But after the clerk had read through the end of the roster, three abstainers — Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) — came forward to vote for Boehner, and pad his victory.
Boehner delivered his opening address moments after the clerk made the tally official, and was then sworn in by the House’s longest serving member, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).
But the writing is on the wall. Boehner is speaker, but his grip on power is tenuous, and his fate in the next Congress is uncertain.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.