Politics & Government

Boehner challenger Mark Meadows says he’s prepared for consequences

It’s not everyone who celebrates their 56th birthday by trying to remove the speaker of the House of Representatives from power.

But Rep. Mark Meadows, a conservative Republican from North Carolina, did just that Tuesday. He quietly filed something called a motion to vacate the chair.


Kick House Speaker John Boehner out of it, and his surprising move quickly became the talk of Capitol Hill.

A self-professed former "fat nerd" who was born in France and raised in Florida, Meadows has become a hero to his party’s hard right wing. Its followers say he spoke truth to power in his two-page motion that portrays Boehner, R-Ohio, as a heavy-handed tyrannical leader who placates the left, punishes conservatives, and has "caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people."

Amen, declared Rep. Walter Jones, another North Carolina Republican and political kindred spirit who shares Meadows’ frustration with Boehner’s leadership.

"He’s a man of integrity and honor," Jones said of Meadows.

But Meadows and his motion has become an irritant to Boehner and his supporters, just as the House prepares to leave for a lengthy August recess without the Republican-controlled Congress agreeing on a long-term highway bill and other pressing issues.

"Listen, this is one member, all right?" Boehner said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "I've got broad support amongst my colleagues. And frankly, it isn't even deserving of a vote."

And the speaker may get his wish. Meadows’ motion has been referred to the House Rules Committee, a Boehner-controlled political backwater where problematic items have been known to die.

"It’s in the hopper," Jill Shatzen-Kerr, the committee’s communications director said.

Meadows, meanwhile, is waiting for the next shoe – or axe – to drop for challenging the most powerful figure in the House in such a public way. He declined to talk with McClatchy Wednesday, but appeared on conservative talk radio and television since introducing his motion.

"I don’t relish being punished, but yeah; the punishment is surely going to come," he told syndicated conservative radio show host Mark Levin Tuesday night. "For me, I couldn’t be silent any longer. Indeed, it something that had to be done, regardless of the consequences. And there will be consequences to pay. This particular decision may send me home. It may make sure that I don’t get re-elected."

That’s not likely to happen, according to Chris Cooper, head of Western Carolina University’s political science department. Meadows was elected to a second term in 2014, capturing nearly 63 percent of the vote.

"Local Republicans, for the most part, love him," Cooper said Wednesday. "I think the anti-Boehner thing is playing well."

Fellow House members describe Meadows, 56, as a cordial lawmaker whose firm convictions have put him at odds with his party’s leadership. He was one of 25 Republicans who didn’t vote for Boehner as speaker in January. He joined 34 others in bucking the party leadership to vote against a procedural move that allowed a measure to give President Barack Obama so-called "fast track" trade authority.

He’s a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans who’ve clashed with their party’s leadership over policy and strategy. He’s experienced the carrot and the stick: Meadows had his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subcommittee chairmanship taken away last month, only to be reinstated.

Meadows was first elected to the House in 2012, winning an open seat created by the redistricting-prompted retirement of Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C. Before becoming a lawmaker, Meadows opened a sandwich shop in Highlands, N.C. He and his wife, Debbie, moved to the North Carolina mountains after he graduated from the University of South Florida in 1981.

Meadows was born at a U.S. Army hospital in Verdun, France, where his father was stationed during the Vietnam war. His mother worked as a civilian nurse.

During his first congressional campaign, he told The Smoky Mountain News that he was a "fat nerd" in his teen years. He decided to lose weight through exercise after being rejected for a date.

"When you grow up as a fat kid, everybody makes fun of you, and all you want to do is fit in," he told The Smoky Mountain News. "When you run for office, people say stuff...We just want to be like everyone and be liked."

Not everyone on Capitol Hill liked what he did Tuesday night. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., who’s didn’t vote for Boehner as speaker, blasted Meadows’ motion as a "poorly-timed stunt."

"I disagree with the way this has been done," Nugent said Wednesday. "We have so many important issues today that we should facing. This is a distraction. This gets us off of where we should be. We should be talking about the Iran deal. This is just a distraction."

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said he hopes Meadows knows what he’s doing.

"I’ve learned the hard way: If you’re going to shoot at a king, make sure you kill him. And if you don’t kill him, make sure you at least wound him," said Sanford, a former South Carolina governor. "Which is to say these things require and need time. The idea of throwing it in a box and seeing what happens is an ill-fated strategy." 

Franco Ordoñez contributed.