Speaker-to-be John Boehner: More confrontation or a hint of compromise?
After a House Republican landslide, presumptive Speaker John Boehner will have to handle a wounded President Obama and tea party lawmakers emboldened by their success. In a Monitor interview, Boehner suggests ways that he might be able to bridge the gap between the two.
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Boehner describes himself as a “reluctant warrior” in politics. “It was not really what I wanted to do,” he said in the interview. “But I was frustrated with government, thought it was too big, spent too much, and was out of control, and as someone who was succeeding in the free enterprise system, I believed that the government was choking the goose that was laying the golden egg. And it still is, even worse.”Skip to next paragraph
When the local congressman got into trouble, Boehner sought and won his seat. As a freshman in 1991, he was one of the brash newcomers who attacked congressional perks and abuses. He also pledged not to carve out earmarks or pork projects for his district – a position that the GOP caucus only adopted, tentatively, this year. Minority whip Newt Gingrich drew him in to help draft the 1994 "Contract with America." When Gingrich became speaker, Republicans selected Boehner to chair the GOP conference. He was ousted in 1998, the year Gingrich resigned his post after Republicans unexpectedly lost five seats in the midterm voting.
The election of George W. Bush in 2000 gave Boehner another key shot at leadership, this time as chair of the committee responsible for the president’s high-profile attempt to reform education. The only trouble was, many House Republican leaders were lining up against the bipartisan plan emerging from Boehner’s panel. “It was a comeback for Boehner to get chairmanship of that committee, and suddenly there was this issue of his going right back into Siberia, probably forever,” recalls Sandy Kress, Bush’s education adviser.
A wink from George W. Bush
At one point, Boehner was playing golf with David Hobbs, the Bush administration’s chief legislative lobbyist, who told him the blunt reality. “You’re in big trouble; leadership is in revolt, you should expect a call from Dick [Cheney],” Boehner recounts.
The White House summoned House GOP leaders to a meeting three days later. Boehner’s plane was late, and the meeting was well under way when he arrived. “[House Republican whip] DeLay was just dumping all over where I was going with this bill, and then [majority leader Dick] Armey chimed in and then [Speaker] Hastert, who had been an even-handed player through the whole thing, chimed in with DeLay and Armey,” Boehner says. About this time, he adds, the president gave him a wink, then another. Boehner presented his case for reform, and at the end, Bush said: “I’m with Boehner; this meeting is over.”
According to Mr. Kress, who was in the meeting, No Child Left Behind would have never made it through Congress if Boehner had bailed on the plan. He says one of the arguments Boehner made was the importance of not reneging on his agreement with Miller, the Democrat. “He said: ‘I made a commitment and I’m going to honor it,’ ” Kress recalls.
The question now is how much cross-aisle dealing Boehner will be doing when the atmospherics in Washington are so different. To get anything done, one thing seems certain: He will have to be as supple in the halls of Congress as he is on the golf course, where he swings right-handed and putts left-handed.