WASHINGTON — Movie clips, some coarse talk and behind-the-scenes hardball.
House GOP leaders are selling, selling, selling Speaker John Boehner's debt limit plan to skeptical rank-and-file Republicans.
Boehner explained it himself: "I can't do this job unless you're behind me," he told his members.
"Get your ass in line," he ordered a caucus in chaos days before a government that borrows 40 percent of what it spends may lose its ability to borrow any more.
Deciding whether to support Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts has vexed House Republicans more than any other question in the seven months since they assumed control of the chamber and promised to change the way Washington works.
Some in the tea party movement that helped propel the Republican gains in the 2010 elections concluded that Boehner already had betrayed them by negotiating with President Barack Obama on possibly increasing government revenues — read, taxes — as part of a debt ceiling-debt reduction deal. Others said he deserved more time to put things right in their eyes.
The split is less about conservative ideology than whether a deal that can pass into law amounts to failure. Both sides say their aim is to polish the GOP's deficit-slashing brand and pave a road to victory for the party in the 2012 elections.
The two factions within the GOP caucus clashed Wednesday in a remarkable closed-door meeting that opened with a revelation to some: Conservatives had been trying to get outside groups to put pressure on undecided GOP members to oppose Boehner's plan because its spending cuts were too puny.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Boehner's Ohio neighbor and the chairman of the House's 175-member conservative Republican Study Committee, opened the meeting by apologizing for a staffer's email that referred to a "hit list" of Republicans.
Some members stood up and said they didn't appreciate being targeted. "Fire him!" someone in the crowd yelled, referring to the staffer. The scene inside the room was described to The Associated Press by two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
"This has never been and never will be the way we do business at the RSC," the study group's spokesman, Brian Straessle, later told reporters.
The debate's toll on the trust and good will that once existed within Boehner's conference had become clear to GOP leaders earlier in the week.
Boehner's ambitious second-in-command, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., acknowledged to the caucus that "the debt limit vote sucks," but he insisted it must be done.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., chose to fire up the members Tuesday with a clip from the cops-and-robbers flick "The Town," in which Ben Affleck's character tells his cohorts, "We're gonna hurt some people." Someone else asks, "Whose car we gonna take?"
"Politics isn't a gang fight," White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer tweeted.
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said that the movie choice underscored "a barely veiled interest in hurting the president politically" and showed the Republicans meant to incite "vitriol and (a) negative tone."
"Who are they planning to hurt?" she said.
"Given how serious the situation is — and the situation is serious — why is the congresswoman moonlighting as a movie critic?" Boehner spokesman Michael Steel responded.