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House Republicans ousted from key committees demand explanation from Boehner

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Dec. 7, 2012: U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington.Reuters

In a gutsy move, three House Republicans who were removed from plum committee posts are demanding an explanation from House Speaker John Boehner -- escalating the war of words that started earlier this week.

The letter is the latest salvo in the dispute between Boehner and conservative groups and lawmakers who have challenged some of his post-election decisions. Perhaps most controversial was the decision to yank four conservative House members off key committees, a move the lawmakers claimed was retaliation for their voting records.

Three of them fired off the letter to Boehner on Friday, demanding an explanation by Monday.

“We write to request a full and complete written explanation of the rationale for removing us from our current committee assignments, including any ‘scorecards’ presented to the Steering Committee to justify our removals,” they wrote. The letter was signed by Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and David Schweikert, R-Ariz.

Huelskamp was yanked off the budget and agriculture committees; Schweikert was pulled from the financial services panel; and Amash was also booted from the budget committee. A fourth, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., lost his seat on financial services.

The three who wrote the letter lamented that they were never “officially informed” and never got a “formal explanation.” But they claimed to have found out a “scorecard” of past votes was presented to make the case for removing them.

“Through this past term, we were not aware that any such scorecard existed, nor that the scores would cause us to be removed from committee assignments,” they wrote. “We believe this would be valuable information for the entire Republican Conference to know, so that each Member can make a full and complete decision when casting votes in the future. It would also allow us to communicate to our constituents which votes caused us to be removed.”

On top of the complaints about the committee changes, Boehner has also faced criticism from conservative groups and members for putting revenue on the table as part of fiscal talks with the White House, with some going so far as to say Boehner could be risking his speakership.

The group American Majority Action has launched the #fireboehner hashtag on Twitter, calling the so-called "purge" of conservatives "the nail in the coffin."

Thanks to the logistics of speakership elections, though, Boehner could still have a firm hold on power. The full House -- not just the Republican wing of the House -- would vote for the next speaker. Whoever wins the majority of all votes cast would win the post.

That means Republicans would want to be united enough to ensure that a Democratic candidate -- most likely, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- does not win. With one vacancy in the House, the breakdown of the new Congress will be 234 Republicans and 200 Democrats. A few dozen Republicans abstaining could deprive Boehner of the votes he needs, but could also hand the gavel to the minority party.

Asked on Fox News whether there was any movement in the Republican caucus toward challenging Boehner, Amash did not say. But he said Boehner had stirred "unrest" in the House.

"The speaker may have miscalculated here, thinking there's just going to be a few of us that are concerned about it, but it's clear he made a threat to the rest of the conference and people aren't taking it very well," Amash said.

"I think this is going to backfire on Speaker Boehner, and people who run a conference like this have to be very careful."