Tom Price is looking over John Boehner's shoulder.
Just last week, the New York Times reported that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is "enjoying the broadest support of his tumultuous" tenure, and benefits from "the strong embrace from a broad spectrum of the rank and file."
Well, maybe. National Journal notes that some conservative activists are "launching an all-out effort aimed at about 100 House Republicans to see if it can find at least 17 of them angry enough, and bold enough, to block Boehner's reelection when the new Congress commences on Jan. 3." The Week also reported that Boehner's gavel is at risk if ongoing debt-reduction talks go poorly.
And this morning, National Review pointed to a possible challenger to Boehner from his own conference.
Should a debt deal go sour, the buzz is that Tom Price, a 58-year-old physician from Georgia, may challenge John Boehner for the speaker's gavel.
"Price is the person we're all watching," says an aide close to House leadership. "We know he's frustrated, but we don't know much else."
In an interview with National Review Online, Price won't speculate about his future, but he acknowledges his growing uneasiness. "My concern is that within our conference, conservatives, who are a majority, don't have a proper platform," he says. "That's true at the leadership table and on the steering committee."
If Price's name sounds familiar, there's a good reason -- the Georgia Republican sought the #4 slot in the House Republican leadership a few weeks ago, and had Paul Ryan's backing, but Boehner supported Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who got the gig.
And while it still seems far-fetched that Boehner would lose his position, and all of this scuttlebutt may soon fade, it's also hard not to notice the Speaker's recent missteps.
Boehner's decision to punish four conservative House members for their lack of loyalty, for example, proved to be very controversial in GOP circles, and it was Boehner who oversaw the p.r. disaster of picking 19 middle-aged white guys for 19 House committee chairmanships.
The result is GOP discontent. From the National Review piece:
As he plots his next step, Price, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is conferring with backbenchers about their grievances. Some of them are angry with Boehner, following a decision by House leaders last week to remove four conservatives from their committees. Boehner said the move was not an ideological rebuke, but it caused trouble nonetheless.
"Tom has spoken with me about his concerns," says a veteran House Republican. "He says he doesn't want conservatives to get burned." A second House Republican, who was elected in 2010, says Price is slowly building an informal coalition and chatting frequently with a tight circle of conservative members. In recent days, Price has also huddled with Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, at Norquist's office.
What's more, when Boehner offered Price a ceremonial post in exchange for his pledge of support, Price declined.
For the record, the smart money says Boehner keeps the Speaker's gavel, and with three weeks to go, he has no announced Republican rival. But Democrats made gains this year, and it would only take 17 House GOP members to make the Speaker's race a lot more interesting. It's a story worth watching.
Update: As of this afternoon, Price's office says the congressman "is not" running for House Speaker.