Two years ago when 10 percent of congressional Democrats cast protest votes rather than vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker, Politico's Jonathan Allen -- who, you may recall had rejoined the paper after a brief stint working for Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- and John Bresnahan dutifully gave readers a story chock full of pro-Pelosi spin, seeking to communicate that Pelosi had little to worry about in the long run from the protest votes.
Fast forward to January 3, 2013, when five percent of House Republicans failed to vote for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to be speaker of the House in the 113th Congress. Covering the story this afternoon, Bresnahan and colleague Jake Sherman sought to simultaneously argue that Boehner faced an uphill struggle to hold on to power and that he never really had a credible challenge to the speakership in the first place (emphasis mine):
John Boehner won reelection to a second term as House speaker on Thursday, but it wasn’t easy.
In an unusually suspenseful roll-call vote of the new House of Representatives, Boehner garnered 220 votes, but 12 Republican lawmakers either opposed him, voted present or abstained.
The reduced margin from his unanimous election two years ago demonstrates Boehner’s increasingly fragile hold on House Republicans. While there was no danger that Boehner would ever lose Thursday’s election for speaker, a frantic lobbying effort occurred in the hours before the vote to hold down potential “no” votes, said members and GOP leadership aides.
There are 200 Democrats in the new Congress and 192 of them, including Pelosi, voted for the San Francisco Democrat, leaving three who did not vote and five who voted for someone besides Pelosi. Sherman and Bresnahan failed to mention the Democratic defections, which accounted for four percent of the caucus, an improvement from the 10 percent defection Pelosi suffered in 2011, but still by definition a sign that Pelosi doesn't command the unanimous respect she did in years past.
Boehner did not cast a vote, as is customary for a sitting speaker, so when you factor in the 12 Republicans who either voted for another person, voted "present" or simply refused to vote, Boehner got the backing of 95% of his caucus.
For their part, in January 2011, Bresnahan and Sherman were engaged in damage control for Pelosi, weaving her acolytes, including anonymous ones, throughout their story on the 19-vote defection (emphasis mine):
It was a scene unlike any other in recent House history and, as a public repudiation of a party leader by so many lawmakers, one that won’t soon be forgotten. The roll call resulted in the most votes against a party’s own speaker candidate in nearly 90 years, according to the House historian’s office. Twenty-three Republicans voted against Massachusetts GOP Rep. Frederick Gillett’s candidacy for speaker in 1923, although he eventually won the gavel on the ninth vote. When Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) teetered on the edge of rejection by his own party in 1997, only nine Republicans denied him their votes.
Pelosi brushed off the votes against her in a brief exchange with POLITICO after the roll call.
“We’re excited about the votes I got,” said the California congresswoman, who handed over the speaker’s gavel to Boehner at a ceremony after the roll call.
While many Democrats were surprised when Pelosi announced that she would seek the post — and 43 voted against her for the position in a caucus meeting late last year — the overwhelming majority supported her for speaker Wednesday.
And she got an unexpected shot in the arm from a high-ranking administration official who served in Congress.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, a former House member from California, told POLITICO that Pelosi made the right decision to stay on as minority leader.
“I’m happy that she decided to stay,” Solis said. “She represents the heart of the Democratic Party and is very principled.”
Pelosi aides and allies insisted that she did not whip the symbolic vote or take any action to tamp down opposition, and they privately assert that they had “no idea” how many of her colleagues would vote for other candidates.
Democratic sources said California Rep. George Miller, Pelosi’s right-hand man, was making calls on her behalf to try to hold down opposition to her on the floor. Getting an accurate whip count was next to impossible Tuesday, as Pelosi opponents largely stayed away from a closed-door caucus meeting for House Democrats.
Pelosi has consistently said that she has “no regrets” over the Democrats’ 63-seat loss on Election Day — the worst suffered by either party in more than 70 years — and despite her unpopularity nationally, she remains a powerful force within the House Democratic Caucus and among party faithful.
Intraparty dissent over the speaker’s vote is rare but not new.
A senior Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the anti-Pelosi votes demonstrated her diminished status, but he said that she remained a power within the caucus.
“I wouldn’t overinterpret this,” said the lawmaker. “This is political more than anything. [Pelosi] was an issue for a lot of members during the campaign, and they wanted to inoculate themselves against that happening again.”
Yet even that admission is a sign of how worried some Democrats are about Pelosi’s standing moving into the 2012 cycle.
“The fracturing of the Democratic House really is symbolic of what is happening across the country with the Obama agenda,” said Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.