John Boehner's Tough Choice

Boehner must decide between most extreme members of his caucus and a compromise.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, answers questions at a press conference at the Capitol on Sept. 26, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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Not even a serenity prayer could save the speaker's "Plan B." He was forced to pull the bill from the House floor.

Members say they've seen the speaker's leadership style evolve albeit in small ways since then. What began as a speaker committed to a "grand bargain" has shifted to one inclined (maybe even forced) to consider more closely the wishes of his most conservative and aggressive members.

"He's become very good at listening," says Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a moderate member of the caucus. "I think clearly there was a realization very early on, because we had these waves of new people, that you cannot just do this bottom down."

Diaz-Balart defends Boehner and says he was dealt a tough hand—a passionate caucus that doesn't always understand the way Washington works.

"It has been a learning process for everybody," Diaz-Balart says. "We have lots of new people, very good, bright, aggressive people, but in some cases, with very little understanding of how to get things done in this process."

Boehner has had to cede ground on a host of issues because of deep divisions within his caucus. He relied on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to corral her Democratic caucus to get the Violence Against Women Act across the finish line. And he had to split the farm provisions from the country's food stamp program for the first time in more than 30 years to attract the GOP votes he needed to pass a farm bill.

[READ: The GOP's Tactics Seem to Be Working, According to New Poll]

There are some issues that inevitably unite the caucus though On Sept. 20 Boehner gave his Republican caucus exactly what it wanted: a chance to vote on a government funding bill that defunded the president's health care plan. He'd given his caucus more than 40 opportunities to repeal Obamacare, but this, many in his caucus argued, was the best chance Boehner had ever given them to stop the law in its tracks.

The House overwhelmingly, although almost entirely along party lines, approved the measure. And the Senate, as expected, sent it straight back Friday with the "defund Obamacare" provision stripped, leaving Boehner and the House Republicans back at square one.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have promised the GOP caucus that they will push to delay Obamacare for a year through the upcoming debt ceiling fight, but it is still unclear whether Republicans like Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., or Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., will be willing to give up on the defund fight that easily.

"Some of those guys are like the Blues Brothers. They are on a mission from God," LaTourette said.

LaTourette remembers Boehner pulling out all the stops to get his rank-and-file to fall in line, but no perk were good enough nor argument compelling enough to turn the tide.

"He has invited people to be part of the team. He has rewarded them with plum committee assignments. He has used logic and about the only thing he hasn't used is physical violence," LaTourette said.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, is one such member who is reluctant to follow the speaker's lead.

Gohmert, who voted against Boehner for speaker earlier this year, says Boehner spends too much time calculating what Democrats want.

"It looks like we still have some work to do when we have a major victory, where our party stands together that we don't immediately start trying to bid against ourselves in the negotiation with the Senate," Gohmert says. "It always seems like something else is being negotiated."

Gohmert says he is tired of being asked to be a team player when he believes Boehner is making the wrong decisions for the squad.

[READ: Boehner Says Getting Votes on Syria Is Up to Obama]

"They love to use football metaphors like all the Republicans need to be running down the field , running the same play. I completely agree, but when my quarterback calls a play and he wants me to run to the wrong end zone, I am not going to block for him," Gohmert says.

Democrats have also lost their patience with Boehner.

Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., says he is done feeling sympathetic toward the speaker and his rag-tag, rank-and-file members. Hoyer and 185 other Democrats sent an open letter Wednesday to the White House in support of a clean funding bill, a sign that if he wanted, Boehner may be able to court the roughly 30 moderate Republicans he needs to help pass the legislation and avoid a government shutdown.