U.S. House Speaker John Boehner rarely casts floor votes, following his office’s tradition. When the Ohio Republican has voted this year, Arizona Democrat Ron Barber sided with him more often than not, while Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina usually didn’t.
Barber, whose district President Barack Obama lost in the 2012 election, is among a small number of House Democrats who at times have aligned with Republicans as they project political independence ahead of potentially difficult re-election campaigns next year.
Jones and a handful of Republican colleagues, meanwhile, exemplify party members with libertarian views who have complicated Boehner’s management of the House by pushing him to take a harder line against Obama on fiscal policy and showing a willingness to break with the speaker.
Barber, who’s serving his first full term, sided with Boehner on 10 of the 16 votes by the speaker. That’s the most among the House’s 200 Democratic members, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Twelve other Democrats, including Representatives Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah, voted the same as Boehner at least half of those times.
Barber, McIntyre and Matheson come from districts that lean Republican, and they “want to get re-elected,” said Matthew Green, a political scientist at Catholic University in Washington.
Barber, 68, broke with Democratic leaders in September to back a short-term extension of government funding that would have delayed the 2010 health-care law’s individual insurance mandate by one year. Barber also supported piecemeal, stopgap spending bills backed by Republicans and opposed by Obama and most Democrats during the partial 16-day government shutdown that began Oct. 1.
Barber says his voting record reflects his independent-minded views and those of his constituents in a Tucson-area district that backed Republican Mitt Romney over Obama, 50 percent to 48 percent, in last year’s presidential race.
“My voting is based upon what I think is right for the district,” Barber said in an interview. “When I ran for office, I told the people of Arizona that I would not come here to toe a partisan line.”
Barber and some other Democratic incumbents may highlight their occasional votes with Republicans during next year’s elections, when voter turnout will be lower than in 2012 and Democrats will be trying to buck the historical trend of the party that occupies the White House losing ground in Congress in midterm elections.
Barber faces a likely rematch with Republican Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. She almost unseated Barber in what was 2012’s sixth-closest House race.
Republicans have signaled that they will link Barber to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California by spotlighting his votes opposing repeal of the health-care law and a budget blueprint proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.
“Ron Barber may be willing to say anything necessary to get elected, but at the end of the day, on the defining issues that matter to Arizonans, Barber has clearly put party loyalty before the interests of his district,” Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an e-mail.
McIntyre won a ninth term in the closest House race in the 2012 elections, and Matheson, serving his seventh term, was the victor in the second-closest race. Like Barber, McIntyre and Matheson are likely to face the same Republicans who almost beat them last year in districts that Romney carried.
Other Democrats siding with Boehner in nine out of 16 votes were Representatives Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Scott Peters of California, and Joe Garcia and Patrick Murphy of Florida. Each was first elected in 2012 with less than 55 percent of the vote.
Representatives Bill Foster of Illinois and Jared Polis of Colorado voted the same way as Boehner on eight of 15 votes (the two Democrats missed one of the roll calls the speaker participated in). Aligning with Boehner exactly 50 percent of the time -- on eight of 16 votes -- were Representatives Ami Bera and Raul Ruiz of California and Dan Lipinski and Brad Schneider of Illinois.
Republican Jones, 70, an ally of the small-government Tea Party activists, voted Boehner’s way only 5 of 16 times. As Jones seeks an 11th term, he faces a challenge in the 2014 Republican primary from Taylor Griffin, a former aide to President George W. Bush.
Representatives Justin Amash of Michigan, who initially won his seat in 2010, and Tom Massie of Kentucky, first elected last year, sided with Boehner 7 out of 16 times, tied for second-lowest among the speaker’s current 230 Republican colleagues. Like Jones, Amash and Massie are allied with the Tea Party. All three also opposed Boehner’s re-election as speaker in January.
Twelve other Republicans broke with Boehner more than 25 percent of the time.
Fifteen of Boehner’s votes were in support of various measures, including the Ryan budget and farm and education-related bills. Boehner, a former chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, was an architect of the 2001 education law known as No Child Left Behind that Bush advocated early in his first term.
Boehner’s only “no” vote this session came on an Amash amendment that would have curbed the National Security Agency’s ability to collect communications records. Jones, Amash and Massie were among the 94 Republicans who joined a majority of Democrats in voting for the measure. It lost, 217-205.
Thirty Republicans have sided with Boehner on all of his 16 votes. They include Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. Among five other Republicans who never opposed Boehner, four missed at least one vote and another voted “present” on one measure.
Boehner’s few floor votes is in keeping with a tradition that dates to Congress’s earliest days, when the speakership was a more parliamentary than party-affiliated position.
The speaker would “enforce the rules rather than take sides,” said Green, who’s written a book about the office, which is second in the line of presidential succession.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com