Boehner tweaks Labrador about ‘support’ of Simpson

House Speaker John Boehner drew applause from a crowd of 430 backing 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson with a clear misstatement: he said Simpson’s 1st District colleague and fellow Republican was backing Simpson in his primary race.

“I want to thank Raul Labrador for being here today and being supportive of his colleague in his re-election bid,” Boehner said Monday at a Boise event that raised more than $95,000 for Simpson’s campaign for a ninth term.

Trouble is, Labrador has said he will remain neutral in the contest between Simpson and tea party challenger Bryan Smith, who is endorsed by Club for Growth. Labrador is allied with tea party groups and the anti-tax Club for Growth, which Simpson expects to raise up to $2 million on behalf of Smith.

Speaking before Boehner, Simpson recognized a sparkling list of GOP luminaries as evidence of the Republican establishment’s support: Gov. Butch Otter, First Lady Lori Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Controller Brandon Woolf.

Then, Simpson said this about his colleague, without making any claim of support: “We have the congressman from the 1st Congressional District, Raul Labrador, and his wife, Becca.”

Simpson went on noting others in the crowd including Iowa GOP Congressman Tom Latham, one of Simpson’s best friends in Congress; Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke; and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who holds a nonpartisan office but is a leading Democrat. Simpson also asked about 20 Idaho legislators on hand to raise their hands. Finally, he thanked the two organizers of the event, former Idaho Republican Chairman Kirk Sullivan, who Labrador helped oust over Otter’s objection in 2008; and Mark Dunn, a longtime lobbyist for the J.R. Simplot Co.

I’m not sure what Emily Post would say, but I can’t see how Labrador could have felt anything but the victim of a Boehner prank with a mean edge. Few in the sophisticated crowd of insiders were unaware that Labrador had vowed not to take sides in the Simpson-Smith race.

After the lunch, I asked Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts if Labrador had decided to back Simpson. “He bought a ticket,” she snapped.

I tried to catch Labrador, but he quickly scooted behind the security screen at the back of the podium in the ballroom at the Boise Centre. Later, he replied to my text, asking if he’d changed his mind or if Boehner misspoke.

“Yes, he misspoke,” replied Labrador.

My prank theory is bolstered by the fact that Boehner spoke in the same room where Simpson ripped Labrador as a member of a rebel group that tried to oust Boehner in January. Labrador himself received one vote for speaker and twice refused to vote when his name was called by the House clerk.

Simpson lashed out during an interview before the start of a Jan. 12 City Club of Boise forum, calling the calling the conspirators “irresponsible” and arguing they had “substantially lost credibility” and misunderstood the majority party’s  responsibility to govern.

Of Labrador, Simpson said, ““He just didn’t vote. Which, as anyone who’s ever been in a legislative body will tell you, you got one thing going for you and that’s your credibility. And once you lose that credibility it’s gone and it’s gone forever.”

Labrador, on an official trip in Morocco, replied that Simpson was a “bully” and “an old-school legislator that went to Washington, D.C., to compromise.” Labrador added that Simpson may have been able to bully former 1st District Congressman Bill Sali, a Club for Growth favorite who served just one term, but that tactic “doesn’t work with me.”

My take is Labrador attended Monday because to do so was good form, a polite gesture to the speaker and Simpson. And I suspect Boehner’s use of Labrador’s presence to make him a punchline won’t be soon forgotten.




Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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