The five Republican House members from South Carolina held firm Thursday night against relentless pressure from Speaker John Boehner to vote for his bill to increase the federal debt ceiling.
The remarkable show of defiance by the state’s lawmakers against their party’s House leaders played a central role in forcing Boehner to pull the debt-limit measure at 10:30 p.m. after they and other foes endured hours of arm-twisting in personal meetings at the Capitol.
Boehner and other House GOP leaders struggled futilely to find enough votes from skeptical conservatives to pass a plan to cut future deficits and raise the nation’s debt limit in the face of a revolt led by Tea Party-backed, rank-and-file members.
South Carolina moved to the center of the Capitol Hill late-night drama as the only state with five lawmakers opposed to Boehner’s legislation just days before an Aug. 2 default deadline. No other state had more than three opponents.
The refusal by the five S.C. GOP lawmakers – including freshman Reps. Tim Scott, Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan and Trey Gowdy – was a remarkable show of public defiance against their party’s House leaders on a high-profile vote with the nation watching.
Asked at 9:15 p.m., after meeting with Boehner, whether he was still a no vote, Scott, from North Charleston, responded: “Right now.”
Scott, a former state representative from North Charleston, was demanding that the House at least vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget as the most reliable way to place a structural brake on spending.
“I represent single parents and folks who work 12 hours a day,” Scott said an hour later. “They want an American dream that still matters. I want a balanced budget amendment.”
House GOP leaders postponed consideration of Scott’s bill to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from blocking Boeing from opening a North Charleston plant to build 787 Dreamliner planes, but Scott aides denied it was in retaliation for his refusal to vote for Boehner’s bill.
Scott, one of two black Republicans in Congress, is a member of the House leadership as a representative of the chamber’s large GOP freshman class.
As day stretched into evening, Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens resisted increasingly urgent appeals from Boehner’s team to switch sides and back the legislation to raise the debt limit by $900 billion while imposing $1.2 trillion in immediate spending cuts.
“Jeff is being pushed very hard to vote for the bill,” said Allen Klump, his spokesman.
Rep. Trey Gowdy was also being muscled hard by his congressional bosses.
“A 16-year prosecutor can handle pressure,” said Robert Hughes, Gowdy’s spokesman.
Before defeating incumbent Rep. Bob Inglis in the Upstate’s Republican primary last year, Gowdy was 7th Circuit solicitor in Spartanburg.
With reporters clamoring around them, Scott, Mulvaney, Duncan and Rep. Joe Wilson, a Lexington Republican in his sixth term, retired to the House chapel and prayed together.
Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican, co-authored the Cut, Cap and Balance bill the House passed last week to impose cuts, cap spending and require a balanced-budget amendment. The bill died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Mulvaney resisted a personal plea from Boehner to back the speaker’s deficit-ceiling measure during a meeting in the Ohioan’s ornate office near the House chamber at the Capitol.
“He’s still a no on the bill,” said Bryan Partridge, Mulvaney’s spokesman. “He’s excited at how strong the South Carolina delegation has been to fight for something that changes the way this town does business.”
In a 10:15 p.m. interview on Fox News, Sen. Lindsey Graham urged his House GOP colleagues in South Carolina and other states to stand firm against the Boehner bill.
“You won the right to come up here and change this country,” Graham said. “Fight for it. I love John Boehner. He’s doing the best he can by himself. But his plan is not going to avoid a credit downgrade. Interest rates are going to go up for every American.”
Hours earlier, Boehner abruptly postponed a planned 7 p.m. vote and began working furiously with other House GOP leaders to find 217 Republicans who would vote for passage.
Many conservatives, under strong pressure from the grass-roots Tea Party and like-minded groups, were balking, saying spending had not been cut enough – with some insisting the government’s $14.34 trillion borrowing authority doesn’t need to be raise.
The Democratic-dominated Senate was poised to kill the measure, possibly Thursday night. Even if it won Senate passage, President Barack Obama had threatened to veto it, and attention would turn to last-ditch talks between the White House and