Updated at 1:42 p.m. on January 5.
Ecstatic Republicans took control of the House today for the first time in four years, formally electing John Boehner of Ohio as House Speaker and joyfully listening to him pledge they will “give government back to the people.”
With his wife, two daughters, and 10 of 11 brothers and sisters looking on from the gallery, Boehner, 61, gained the gavel as the chamber’s 53rd Speaker in a mostly partly-line roll-call vote, 241-173, a transfer of power that returns his predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to the role of minority leader.
Boehner is to proceed this afternoon with his maiden speech as Speaker. Early excerpts show he will seek to strike a humble and conciliatory tone, saying, “This is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us.”
Boehner will also point to the challenges facing lawmakers this session, with nearly 1 out of 10 Americans jobless and the national debt soaring. He will call for bipartisan cooperation on tackling problems and a "free exchange of ideas," and assert that this Congress will not "kick the can down the road." He will promise to try to resolve differences with Democrats “through a fair debate and a fair vote.”
This ascension for the son of a Cincinnati-area bar owner is the direct result of his leading his party to victory over President Obama’s Democrats in November, and punctuates a comeback of sorts — he had been kicked out of leadership after a poor GOP election showing in 1998.
But Boehner has said it is really the fulfillment of an American dream, dating from when he worked his way through college mopping floors and tending bar, to his years as a small-businessman, to his arrival in Congress in 1990.
House Republicans now hold all but 192 of the chamber’s 435 seats — and 87 of them are freshmen. Many of those newcomers arrive in Washington with tea party credentials or have otherwise been sharply critical of both parties. They’ve promised to shake things up.
In Boehner, their party has a personable leader known as for his outwardly low-key leadership style, a conservative pro-business bent, and a professed disdain for too much government. But there can also be some moments of emotion, both with tears or a quick, cutting remark.
Boehner’s leadership is to be hit with some stiff tests right out of the gate, his role no longer resigned to throwing political barbs from the sidelines.
Later today, he will preside as House Republicans push through a new rules package that Democrats claim will allow budget gimmickry and limit debate on some spending matters.
Ahead comes the task of following through on GOP campaign pledges to cut spending, reduce the national deficit, trim government regulation, deal with joblessness and an ailing economy, and even repeal President Obama’s health care law. Boehner and his party know they will be judged by how well they achieve many of those stated goals.
And all of this comes with the reality that the Senate remains controlled by Democrats, and that a Democrat still resides in the White House. The recent lame-duck session may have illustrated, however, how deals can be struck with President Obama.
But the challenges for Boehner could be within the GOP, as well, as evidenced by his public remark late last year to newly elected and other Republicans who might oppose raising the debt ceiling.
“We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part,” he said. Such remarks could be a harbinger of tensions that might emerge from members who do not believe their promised change is happening fast enough.
But in his speech, Boehner underscores that one message of the November election is that Americans wanted change.
“The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions,” Boehner will say.
“We will not always get it right. We will not always agree on what is right. A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle,” he will note. “We cannot ignore that, nor should we.”
But Boehner will suggest that the two parties can disagree “without being disagreeable to each other.”
Excerpts of remarks that Pelosi plans to deliver today show Democrats will take a wait-and-see approach to Boehner’s claims of wanting bipartisanship.
She will say that “Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class, and reduces the deficit — not burdening future generations with debt.”
“When the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the new Republican majority, come forward with solutions that address these American challenges, you will find in us a willing partner,” Pelosi will say.
Video: The Handover of Power in the House
This article appears in the January 5, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.