WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine, of Tulsa, sworn in Thursday to his first term in the U.S. House, made an immediate mark by refusing to back John Boehner for a second term as speaker.
Bridenstine, who had tea party support when he toppled former Rep. John Sullivan in the Republican primary in June, was one of nine Republicans who voted for someone other than Boehner, R-Ohio, for speaker; some others did not vote.
In an interview before the vote, Bridenstine said he “had problems” voting for Boehner because of the debt ceiling deal in 2011 to avoid a default on the nation's debt. Bridenstine said Boehner had agreed to a deal that was crafted in secret and led to congressional “supercommittee” negotiations on tax hikes and spending cuts.
The 2011 deal created the “fiscal cliff” crisis, averted earlier this week, Bridenstine said, and left most members of Congress without a voice.
“In my estimation, it's bad policy,” he said. “It's not the intent of the Constitution of the United States.
“The challenge is no one is running against (Boehner)” for speaker. “So what does a guy like me do?”
What Bridenstine, 37, did was vote for the second-ranking House Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, who has split with Boehner on some issues, including the deal on Tuesday that averted income tax hikes on most Americans.
National tea party organizations had been calling for Boehner's ouster. In his campaign, Bridenstine was endorsed by Tulsa's 9.12 Project, which is aligned with tea party values, and the Restoring America Project, founded by tea party leaders.
With the help of other Oklahoma House members and Boehner's approval, Bridenstine last month landed a coveted spot on the House Armed Services Committee. However, committee assignments can still be changed.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, Oklahoma's other new House member, backed Boehner. He said before the vote that House Republicans had settled the question in November when they voted on the leadership team and selected Boehner as candidate for speaker.
The official House vote on Thursday pitted Boehner against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and former speaker whose party is in the minority. Boehner got 220 votes to Pelosi's 192.
It was the second consecutive opening day of Congress in which an Oklahoman strayed from the party line in the leadership vote. In 2011, Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, refused to back Pelosi, casting his vote for Rep. Heath Shuler, of North Carolina. Boren and Shuler both retired this year.