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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.

By Staff writer / November 3, 2010

With tears in his eyes, House Republican leader John Boehner (R) of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional Committee at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington. Boehner will likely be the next Speaker of the House.

Cliff Owen/AP

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Reading, Ohio

He grew up here in a small house with 11 brothers and sisters – a brood so big that when a young John Boehner first brought his girlfriend (and future wife) home for dinner, he told her that all the kids in the backyard were neighborhood friends. In fact, they were his siblings.

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He worked at the family bar, the one with the moose head still hanging on the wall, to help pay his tuition to Roman Catholic high school by mopping floors and waiting on tables. Later he would take over a struggling plastics container business after the death of its owner, a baptism in small-town capitalism that shaped his views of the role of government in business.

As Republican House minority leader Boehner prepares to become the likely next speaker of the US House of Representatives in January, he will draw on his varied experiences growing up in this blue-collar town outside Cincinnati, as well as his two decades in the marbled halls of Congress, to guide him through what may be one of the toughest tenures as House leader in modern times. He will have to navigate a bumper crop of tea-party-infused GOP freshmen as well as battle-hardened Democrats at a time when the American electorate seems unusually impatient with its political leaders.

Boehner professes to be up to the task, in part because of what he learned in the sharp-elbowed world of saloons and siblings of his youth.

“You had to learn to deal with every character that came through the door,” he said in a recent interview in his House leadership office. “Growing my business, building my team, and serving in this institution for almost 20 years, I think I understand the diversity we have around here and how to manage it.”

Boehner will certainly bring fresh style and substance to the job. Though a committed conservative, he is not an ideologue or firebrand, despite the rhetoric he unleashed toward the White House on the campaign trail. Boehner is pragmatic, typically laid back, and habitually inclined to listen. He watched as House Republican leaders in his day, notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and majority leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay, centralized power in their offices and made themselves the story – and, as a result, some say, fell before their time.

Behind the scenes, across the aisle

Boehner is inclined to work quietly behind the scenes. His instinct is to compromise, but he is not a bipartisan crusader and won’t get out in front of what the Republican caucus is prepared to accept. His public image is that of the consummate Capitol Hill pol – the sharply dressed, smooth-talking lawmaker who once played as many as 100 rounds of golf a year while hitting up lobbyists for big checks.

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