John Boehner’s Inner Circle

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House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013.  Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching. But there was no sign of yielding Saturday in a down-to-the-wire struggle that tea party lawmakers are using to try derailing President Barack Obama's health care law.
National Journal
Billy House
Sept. 30, 2013, 6:14 p.m.

They are not part of the elec­ted House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship team, nor are most of them com­mit­tee chair­men. Rather, they are his crew, his bud­dies, col­leagues who have his back.

Like most con­gres­sion­al lead­ers, Speak­er John Boehner turns to an in­ner circle for coun­sel in rough times like these — and they may not be the people you think.

Reps. Tom Lath­am of Iowa, Pat Tiberi of Ohio, and Mike Simpson of Idaho — House vet­er­ans, but not house­hold names — are on the list. Not­ably ab­sent are Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor of Vir­gin­ia and Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy of Cali­for­nia, both of whom are al­lies but also rep­res­ent rival power cen­ters in the fam­ously frac­tious cham­ber.

If the Dean Mar­tinesque Boehner, styl­ish with his pressed suits, oc­ca­sion­al ci­gar­ette, and per­petu­al tan, were to have a Rat Pack of his own, this roster of about 20 or so law­makers would be it. Some­times, they are vehicles the speak­er uses to pub­licly float his ideas, de­fend his de­cisions, or shoot down chal­lenges. Oth­er times, they simply give ad­vice. “Mor­al sup­port, mostly,” Lath­am says.

“They provide a little bit of everything, in­clud­ing telling Boehner things he might not want to hear — but needs to,” of­fers former Rep. Steve La­Tour­ette, a cent­rist Re­pub­lic­an, fel­low Ohioan, and, un­til his re­tire­ment after the last Con­gress, part of this group.

While there is noth­ing of­fi­cial, the group does have reg­u­lar lunches about once a month, ac­cord­ing to Lath­am, who was re­luct­ant to even ac­know­ledge its ex­ist­ence.

Many of these Boehner al­lies helped him mount his suc­cess­ful in­sur­gent cam­paign for House ma­jor­ity lead­er against then-act­ing lead­er Roy Blunt of Mis­souri back in 2006. Some of them were part of his un­of­fi­cial whip op­er­a­tion in that lead­er­ship race.

But there re­mains no of­fi­cial mem­ber­ship list. And if there was one, says La­Tour­ette, there would be lay­ers to it.

For in­stance, he named Tiberi, Simpson, Lath­am, and Sens. Saxby Cham­b­liss of Geor­gia and Richard Burr of North Car­o­lina, both former rep­res­ent­at­ives. Boehner also counts on Rep. Greg Walden of Ore­gon, his ap­poin­ted Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Cam­paign Com­mit­tee chair­man, and Rep. Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, the pre­vi­ous NR­CC chair­man and now Rules Com­mit­tee chair­man, to ad­vise him about the polit­ic­al scene. And there is Boehner’s “Ohio Mafia,” in­clud­ing Reps. Steve Stivers and Bob Latta.

Bey­ond these mem­bers, La­Tour­ette, law­makers, and aides also list Reps. Charles Bous­tany of Louisi­ana; Doc Hast­ings of Wash­ing­ton; Frank Lu­cas of Ok­lahoma; Frank Lo­Bi­ondo of New Jer­sey; and Mi­chael Mc­Caul and Sam John­son of Texas. There are also new­er mem­bers, such as Rep. Rick Craw­ford of Arkan­sas.

How does this group help Boehner?

Some have been ex­tremely vo­cal in the cur­rent de­bate over fund­ing the gov­ern­ment and avoid­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Simpson, for ex­ample, spoke can­didly in Septem­ber when a House lead­er­ship plan to force the Sen­ate to take a vote on de­fund­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act was re­jec­ted by con­ser­vat­ives in fa­vor of a bill that would ac­tu­ally de­fund Obama­care.

“I thought lead­er­ship put to­geth­er a really good plan,” Simpson kept telling re­port­ers.

On one such oc­ca­sion, he got more force­ful. “I think there’s a num­ber of people who don’t re­mem­ber when the gov­ern­ment was shut down last time [in 1996] and who car­ried the bur­den of that. That was Re­pub­lic­ans.”

Of the hard-liners, Simpson said, “I’m not say­ing they want to shut the gov­ern­ment down. They want to de­fund Obama­care. But if [that is] the in­ev­it­able res­ult of the po­s­i­tion you’re tak­ing and the hard stance you’re tak­ing on something — yeah, you’re re­spons­ible for it.”

In­deed, Boehner’s al­lies of­ten try to help re­port­ers bet­ter un­der­stand vari­ous nu­ances of what he is do­ing. That’s im­port­ant, be­cause there is no short­age of voices in the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence eager to knock the speak­er. Un­like Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi’s meet­ings with her caucus when she was speak­er, Boehner of­ten faces blatant dis­respect.

“They also re­port back “˜in­tel­li­gence’ — well, maybe that’s a strong word,” La­Tour­ette said. “They tell him about the true and un­true ru­mors with­in the con­fer­ence.”

One re­cent ex­ample was get­ting word back to the speak­er that a move­ment was afoot, led by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to al­low the use of some ear­marks to help speed le­gis­la­tion along. Boehner found out early enough to snuff out the ef­fort.

Some might think it odd that Can­tor and Mc­Carthy — and, for that mat­ter, Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an of Wis­con­sin, the GOP’s 2012 vice pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate — are miss­ing from the list

Not so, La­Tour­ette says. He points to the long-stand­ing tur­moil between Boehner and Can­tor that may have con­trib­uted to the lead­er­ship team’s in­ab­il­ity to share the wheel. La­Tour­ette ac­know­ledges that the re­la­tion­ship between the two has im­proved more re­cently, say­ing “they seem to be more on the same page now.”

But when it comes to those Boehner turns to in times of trouble, La­Tour­ette says, it’s not al­ways the titled lead­er­ship of the GOP con­fer­ence.

As he put it, “You need someone who’s got your back.”

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