Rep. John Boehner, who was re-elected speaker of the House on Thursday despite 12 Republicans breaking from him either by voting for someone else or abstaining from voting, addressed his colleagues from the podium with an emotional message.
Of a conference of 234 Republicans, 220 supported Boehner during the tension-filled vote on the House floor Thursday. If just five more Republicans had refused to back him, there would have been a second ballot.
Conservatives within and outside Congress were unhappy with Boehner for his handling of the final "fiscal cliff" legislation and for delaying a vote on a superstorm Sandy recovery bill. Rep. Walter Jones from N.C., a defector, said it was Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan who tried in recent days to organize what amounted to an attempted coup, according to The Hill.
At the voting, three House Republicans voted for GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who stood and indicated he supported Boehner.
After Boehner's re-election, former Speaker Newt Gingrich told MSNBC that the Ohio Republican "can't keep thinking the way he's thought the last few months" and that without a more coherent strategy a "disaster" cannot be avoided. "They could build a strategy in the House, they could think through the next two years. They have total control, that's the way the House operates."
After being sworn in to the newly convened 113th Congress, Boehner was visibly emotional as he addressed his colleagues. "We are sent here not to be something, but to do something – to do the right thing," CNN quoted him as saying. "It's a big job, and it comes with big challenges."
Boehner also expressed concerns over the nation's massive federal debt.
"Public service was never meant to be an easy living," he said. "Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership. So if you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you."
On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked President Barack Obama to be ready to "have a fight" over government spending and the debt limit in the coming weeks. In a Yahoo News op-ed, which appeared hours after Congress sent a bill for the president's signature to avoid the fiscal cliff, McConnell wrote the tax debate is now a thing of the past with the new legislation.
"I have news for him: The moment that he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over," McConnell wrote. "Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion."
In the coming weeks, Congress will have to vote on raising the debt ceiling, which could be as divisive as fiscal cliff negotiations were. Republicans prefer spending cuts to raising the debt limit.