Republican John Boehner of Ohio was sworn in on Thursday to a second term as House speaker after being reelected by his colleagues in a 220-192 vote over Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and then told fellow House members in an emotional address, “We are sent here not to be something, but to do something—to do the right thing.”
Speculation in recent weeks of a potential conservative insurrection against Boehner, 63, failed to materialize to a significant extent during the roll-call vote for speaker.
But showing the strain, perhaps, of the recent weeks’ partisan battles with President Obama and Democrats over addressing the nation’s fiscal ills—and with internal battles with his own Republican conference—the 53rd House speaker seemed at times during his address to be struggling to hold back emotions, even pulling out a handkerchief at one point.
The Ohio Republican seemed most emotional when he told the new House members, “If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place.”
Ten other candidates also received votes among the total 426 cast on Thursday for speaker. (The new Congress actually starts out with 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats, with two vacancies. But some members were not on hand for Thursday's vote, and a handful did not vote for anyone specifically.)
Under House rules, as few as 16 of Boehner’s fellow Republicans could have blocked him from getting the required 50 percent of all House members, plus one, by supporting someone else.
But just nine GOP dissidents ultimately voiced a preference other than for Boehner, as no viable challenger in recent days from the Republican ranks ever stepped forward.
Among those other than Boehner who did receive votes from Republicans were Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia , Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, former Rep. Allen West of Florida , and even former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. House rules do not require that the speaker be elected from sitting House members.
Pelosi also was hit with a handful of defections.
Though he holds on to the speaker’s gavel, Boehner will do so at a time when some public polling shows his approval numbers at a low point—including a Rasmussen poll from late December showing only 55 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Boehner has replaced Pelosi as the least-liked member of congressional leadership.
Boehner—a 22-year veteran of the House and one of 12 children of a working-class family from outside Cincinnati—had achieved a longtime personal ambition when Republicans under his leadership recaptured the House majority in 2010.
But as the top Washington Republican in his first two years as speaker, he also has been cast as the chief foil of Obama and Democrats who control the Senate, in what has been ceaseless partisan battles over dealing with the nation’s debt and spending issues, most recently with the fiscal-cliff saga.
In this role, Boehner repeatedly finds himself caught between pragmatic legislative necessities of helping to craft compromises and the hardline factions within his own Republican Conference that at times have seen him as too willing to cave in negotiations over taxes and spending. And this tension is certain to continue with other upcoming battles over spending, the debt ceiling, and entitlements.
It was this chronic tension with Boehner that had led some outside conservative groups in recent weeks to begin pushing an “oust-Boehner” strategy.
Having survived those efforts, Boehner appeared on Thursday to already be bracing for the upcoming fights. He told the House in his address, “Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems.”
“At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state,” he said.
Boehner then offered, “Public service was never meant to be an easy living. Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership,” and told his members, “If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you.
“There is a time to every purpose under Heaven. For the 113th Congress, it is a time to rise,” Boehner said.
In her own remarks to the chamber, Pelosi called Boehner “a leader who has earned the confidence of his conference and the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
After the vote, Republican dissident Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said that some members had been intimidated to vote for Boehner rather than someone else. Boehner, he said, had threatened members with the losses of their subcommittee or committee assignments. Huelskamp said he knew of one member who was pressured by being told: “You know what? We know we’ve announced your assignment to a committee X. It’s perhaps gone, totally gone if you vote your conscience.”
The eight other House Republicans who, like Huelskamp, voted for someone other than Boehner for speaker were Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan (he voted for Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho); Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma (Cantor); Paul Broun of Georgia (West); Louie Gohmert of Texas (West); Walter Jones of North Carolina (Walker); freshman Thomas Massie of Kentucky (Amash); Steve Pearce of New Mexico (Cantor); freshman Ted Yoho of Florida (Cantor).
Newly-elected Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, voted “present,” while three other Republicans on hand did not vote—Reps. Labrador, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and Boehner himself (speakers typically do not vote for themselves.)
Democrats who did not vote for Pelosi were Reps. Jim Cooper of Tennessee (he voted for Colin Powell); Daniel Lipinski of Illinois (he voted for Cooper); Jim Matheson of Utah (Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.); and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina (Cooper).
Democrats not voting were Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California; John Lewis of Georgia (whose wife died this week); and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.