Boehner's Nemesis

Mark Meadows may not have forced the Speaker out. But his extremism primed the pump
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U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows speaks to a FreedomWorks summit this month about "the importance of listening to the grassroots."

Three years ago, Mark Meadows was a real estate broker and sandwich shop owner in Jackson County, one of North Carolina’s smallest, poorest, and least racially diverse counties. He was running for Congress in the reshaped 11th District, the state’s westernmost and a product of the Republican-controlled N.C. legislature’s post-2010 redistricting.

Now he’s a tea party darling, a spearhead for multiple efforts to shut down the U.S. Government, and one of the members of the extreme right wing of Congress that bedeviled House Speaker John Boehner throughout his speakership. It was Meadows who, in July, filed a motion to remove Boehner from the speaker’s chair. The motion accused Boehner of, “through inaction, caus[ing] the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the executive and judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people.”

Boehner survived the motion but removed himself from the speakership—and Congress—this morning by announcing his resignation. It’s unclear how much the resistance of Meadows and the so-called “tea party caucus” factored into Boehner’s decision. But it’s obvious that the speaker, whatever his faults, was tired of beating his head against the stone wall of right-wing populism in the House, which mirrors the disconnect from reality of the people in the caucus members’ districts.

The last time Meadows occupied the figurehead’s spot in an attempt to shut down the government, it was over the Affordable Care Act two years ago. His explanations then gave us an indication of where he stood on the relationship between his constituents’ wishes and the good of the country. “My job first is to make sure I represent the people back home,” he said. "I don’t believe that when I get here that people expect me to look at the political implications. That’s for somebody else to focus on.” His efforts were successful enough, even after only eight months in office, that the head of the Asheville-area tea party organization referred to Meadows as “our poster boy.”

So when the time came to threaten another government shutdown—this time over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the target of a series of fraudulent videos manufactured by an anti-choice organization—there was Rep. Meadows at the head of the column again. (Boehner’s resignation appears to have forestalled the shutdown, which makes you wonder what the real motive for the threat was in the first place.) His view of U.S. politics today—that of a populace and their representatives besieged by a tyrannical president and judiciary—is straight out of the deepest corners of paranoid right-wing America, which explains why the Daily Caller and the Breitbart network, among others, can’t get enough of the man.

Meadows has already denied that he’ll seek the speakership, and he’s released a statement on Boehner’s departure. “Speaker Boehner has served honorably during a difficult time for Republicans when the threat of a veto from the White House constantly impedes our legislative agenda,” he said, sidestepping his own efforts two months ago to eject the speaker from his seat.

Not that the omission will hurt his standing with the people who elected him to Congress. The one thing they won’t abide, he said in a recent interview for the Daily Caller, is the “timidity” Republicans like Boehner show in refusing to “fight”—presumably by threatening to shut the government down on a regular basis—on such critical matters as sanctuary cities, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood funding. “I don’t have to worry,” Meadows said, “about being beheaded tomorrow for standing up for my faith.”