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Boehner vs. the tea party: Has the speaker changed, or have Republicans? (+video)

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(Read caption) John Boehner attacks tea party conservatives
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Washington is abuzz this week over House Speaker John Boehner’s blunt dismissal of outside tea party groups as having “lost all credibility” for selling Republicans down the road during the government shutdown last fall.

Has the speaker from Ohio, whose trademark style is inclusivity, signaled that the uncompromising, purist-conservative wing of his caucus is now on the outs? And when the House returns from its recess in January, will he, as his critics might put it, show a little leadership for a change?

After all, it was only last January that tea partiers tried to oust him from the speakership.

Perhaps what we’re witnessing is a new, more forceful, and bold John Boehner, one who, in the course of just a few weeks has said his party needs to support gay candidates and “be a little more sensitive” when running against women. One who may be showing a new willingness to reach across the aisle – not only to pass a bipartisan budget agreement but, maybe, just maybe, work with Democrats on immigration reform. (He recently hired the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain – the Republican from Arizona known for his bipartisan efforts – to be his top immigration adviser).

Maybe we’re seeing a new Boehner, but maybe not. What is more likely, actually, is that the Republican conference is changing more than the speaker. Political reality has set in.

“I do think there’s some change in the conference,” says Norman Ornstein, a longtime political observer at the American Enterprise Institute. “A lot of them were jolted by what happened with the shutdown, and now realize what a disaster that was for them.”

That was strikingly obvious in Thursday’s overwhelming bipartisan vote to pass a two-year budget compromise. For the first time this year on a major, controversial fiscal issue, a majority of Republicans voted to support a budget deal that outside tea party groups such as Heritage Action, Freedom Works, and Tea Party Patriots opposed.

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