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Biography

Elected: 1990, 13th term.

Born: November 17, 1949, Cincinnati, OH

Home: West Chester, OH

Education: Xavier U., B.S. 1977

Professional Career: Pres., Nucite Sales Inc., 1976–90.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Roman Catholic

Family: Married (Deborah L. Gunlack) , 2 children ; 1 grandchild

John Boehner, a Republican first elected in 1990, has been the speaker of the House since January 2011. He is sometimes compared to Don Draper, hero of the acclaimed TV series Mad Men: Both are no-nonsense, cigarette-puffing leaders who have adapted to changing circumstances -- in Boehner's case, by frequently but not reflexively embracing his chamber's rightward shift.

Boehner (BAY-ner) grew up in Reading, just north of Cincinnati, the second-oldest of 12 children in a home with two bedrooms. His father ran Andy’s Café, a neighborhood restaurant and bar. Playing at a much heavier weight than he is now, he was a linebacker for Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School on a team coached by Gerry Faust, before Faust went on to coach at Notre Dame. Boehner worked at various jobs after high school and enlisted in the Navy, from which he was discharged because of a back injury. He spent six years working his way through Xavier University as a janitor, and was the first college graduate in his family. He moved to Butler County, where he worked for the Merrell Dow pharmaceutical firm and met Dave Kessler, owner of Nucite, a small plastic packaging company. Kessler hired Boehner as a salesman and within a year after graduation, he was making $74,000—and complaining about high taxes and government paperwork. Kessler’s children were uninterested in the business and he sold it to Boehner, who was also developing an interest in politics. He served on the Union Township Board of Trustees and in 1984, at age 34, was elected to the Ohio House.

In 1990, he ran against Republican incumbent Rep. Donald (Buz) Lukens, who inexplicably sought reelection after he was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Also in the Republican primary was former Rep. Tom Kindness, who had run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1986 and was a lobbyist in Washington. Boehner won the primary with 49%, to 32% for Kindness and 17% for Lukens. The win was tantamount to victory in the heavily Republican district, and Boehner has since been reelected without difficulty.

In the House, Boehner is known for his perpetual tan (President Barack Obama once jokingly described him as a fellow “person of color”), and an emotional side that leads him to get teary-eyed on occasion. He has a consistently conservative voting record, though he also can be pragmatic and apt to look for compromise. That was one reason a handful of younger conservative Republicans in January 2013 tried to engineer a coup to topple him from the speakership. The hastily-organized effort failed: Though 12 Republicans voted against his re-nomination, making for a few tense minutes on the opening day of the 113th Congress (2013-14), he still won with six votes to spare.

The situation repeated itself on the opening day of the 114th Congress (2015-16) to an even greater extent. The vote came a few weeks after Boehner worked with Obama to get a massive "cromnibus" spending bill into law. Sarah Palin told the right-wing Breitbart website that he and other GOP leaders "just flipped American voters the bird by sidelining the new Congress we just elected." Twenty-five Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner, with 12 of the votes going to Florida's Daniel Webster. It was four votes short of the 29 needed to send the vote to a second count, and the first time since 1860 that so many members had voted against a major-party's speaker nominee, according to the 2012 book Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government. A number of the dissenters informed Boehner ahead of time, saying they were under heavy pressure from angry constituents. But one who did not do so was Scott Rigell of Virginia, who had just been named to a plum seat on the Appropriations Committee. He said that Webster shared his commitment for not leaving for summer recess until all 12 annual spending bills were brought to the floor for a vote.

Boehner has become much less of a negotiator as the House has become increasingly populated with take-no-prisoners conservatives. Not long after the 2015 speaker's vote, he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress without informing the White House. Democrats viewed the move as an attempt to torpedo the pending U.S. negotiations with Iran over curbing its nuclear aspirations; Netanyahu is ardently opposed to those talks. Boehner told Fox News that Obama "doesn't quite understand that we're trying to strengthen his hand." At the same time, he said he was willing to let a funding bill for the Homeland Security Department lapse because the House version blocked funds from enforcing an Obama executive order on immigration -- and Senate Democrats refused to take up that version in their chamber. "The House has acted. We've done our job," Boehner said. "Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It's up to Senate Democrats to get their act together."

Earlier, he refused to talk with Obama in early 2013 about a way to avoid steep automatic spending cuts from kicking in across all federal agencies. The dispute, he told reporters, amounted to a difference over “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government. I’m for no more.” Such tough talk endeared him to his party’s right wing. “He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and I think it’s working to our favor and to his,” South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a frequent Boehner critic, told The New York Times.

Other Republicans laud Boehner for being consistent in his conservatism and for being out in front of issues that later became GOP doctrine, such as banning earmarks on spending bills. “He was tea party before there was a tea party,” fellow Ohio GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi, one of his closest friends, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. They also appreciate his candor; he famously referred to the $700 billion Wall Street rescue bill in 2008—which he reluctantly supported—as a “crap sandwich.” And they admire his impressive fundraising ability: He took in nearly $13 million in the 2010 election season, almost twice that amount in the 2012 cycle, and another $21.1 million in the 2014 cycle. After House Republicans kept their majority but lost seats in the November 2012 elections, lobbyist and former GOP leadership aide John Feehery told the Associated Press, “No one else can right now do the job of bringing everyone together” within the party.

Some other observers of Congress agree he has done the best he can in exceeding difficult circumstances. "I am of the view — intensely unpopular among many conservatives — that John Boehner has been a pretty good speaker, that his is a nearly impossible job, and that 99 percent of those who castigate him as a weakling and a sellout — officeholders and free-range critics alike — could not hope to perform half as well as he has," Kevin D. Williamson, a writer for the conservative National Review, wrote in January 2015. Between December 2010 and December 2014, according to Pew Research/USA Today polls, Boehner's public approval rating ranged between 21% and 28%.

Boehner has many detractors across the political spectrum. He has a frosty relationship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., whose description of Boehner as a “dictator” in December 2012 led the speaker to later snap undiplomatically at Reid, “Go f--- yourself.” Liberal Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is far more personable, but they communicate almost entirely by memo or through the news media. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie tore into Boehner for postponing a January 2013 vote on Hurricane Sandy relief funding; the speaker promptly pushed through two bills. Former Ohio GOP Rep. Bob Ney, who went to prison for ethics violations, accused Boehner in a 2013 memoir of being far more interested in playing golf than passing legislation. The speaker called the charges “baseless and false.”

Obama, for his part, has professed to like Boehner personally. But even their earliest dealings did not bode well for future bipartisanship. After a meeting at the White House in January 2009, the new president rejected an alternative economic stimulus plan by Boehner and other GOP leaders, saying, “Elections have consequences,” and “I won.” Boehner rallied Republicans to oppose the Democrats’ $787 billion stimulus bill and all 177 voted against it. Boehner characterized the House Republicans as an “entrepreneurial insurgency” that would oppose Democratic policies through all means at their disposal. He was able to put together solid blocs of GOP opposition to the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill to curb carbon emissions (only eight Republicans voted for it) and their overhaul of health care policy (one Republican voted yes) in 2009, although he was unable to attract a sufficient number of moderate Democrats to stop the bills from passing.

Planning for the 2010 elections began early. In February 2009, Boehner backed National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions’ idea of putting 80 Democratic seats in play. While visiting GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s district in Bakersfield, Calif., Boehner was struck by the enthusiasm of tea party activists at a rally on tax day in April 2009 and he embraced their role in the party. In November 2010, Republicans gained 63 House seats, more than any party has gained since 1948. Boehner found himself in position to lead a larger Republican majority than Georgia’s Newt Gingrich or Illinois’ Dennis Hastert had enjoyed. He called the election a repudiation of Obama’s policies of 2009 and 2010. In his first major undertaking as the leader of the new House majority in December 2010, Boehner negotiated with Obama and the Senate on an agreement to continue the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, including the high income-earners whom Obama had wanted to exclude.

In the early days of his reign as speaker, Boehner led the House in a vote to repeal Obama’s health care legislation, which was largely symbolic considering Democrats still controlled the Senate and the White House. He also let the GOP freshmen kill a multibillion-dollar defense project important to his district in the name of cutting government spending. His next task was much harder: negotiating a budget deal with the Democrats that would avert a government shutdown, but also mollifying the 87 Republican freshmen, many of whom were unfamiliar with, or disinclined toward, the process of cross-party compromise. Many of them wanted the full $100 billion in spending cuts that they had campaigned on, while Obama and the Democrats pushed for far less. Ultimately, Boehner was able to work out a deal with Obama in April 2011 for $38 billion in spending cuts.

The road ahead only became more difficult. In the spring of 2011, Boehner began discussing a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending with Obama without telling others in the GOP leadership. When he informed Virginia's Eric Cantor, who was then majority leader, Cantor argued fiercely against any deal, saying the matter should be left to voters in 2012, and rank-and-file Republicans spoiled for a confrontation. That led to several months of stalemate over raising the federal debt limit, a period that many political observers said exemplified Congress’ deep dysfunction. The final deal did include spending cuts, but left the issue of long-term fiscal matters in the hands of a bipartisan “super committee” of House and Senate members that deadlocked, leaving the issue to be addressed after the 2012 elections.

In the ensuing lame-duck session, Cantor and Boehner sought to negotiate a tax and spending compromise directly with the White House to avoid a so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic deep cuts and big tax hikes. Unable to do so, they proposed a “Plan B” designed to limit looming tax hikes to people with annual incomes over $1 million. It was pulled for lack of support, mostly among conservatives who said its proposed spending cuts didn’t go far enough. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ended up taking the reins on cutting a deal. In a subsequent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Boehner blamed the president. “He’s so ideological himself, and he’s unwilling to take on the left wing of his own party,” he said. That, the speaker added, was why Obama originally agreed with Boehner’s proposal to raise the retirement age for Medicare, and then reversed himself. “He admitted in meetings that he couldn’t sell things to his own members,” Boehner said.

The irony of Boehner’s struggles with his unruly and uncompromising GOP caucus is, he was once a young rebel himself. In his early years in Congress, Boehner was a rabble-rousing reformer. He joined the Gang of Seven, young freshmen Republicans who insisted on naming all 355 members who’d had overdrafts at the House bank, a scandal that revealed that members had routinely abused their tax-subsidized banking privileges. He went on to assail Democrats as well as Republicans who supported a congressional pay raise. Boehner’s Gang of Seven infuriated House veterans but struck a chord with the public, and the junior lawmakers earned recognition beyond their years of service. In the process, Boehner became a top ally of Minority Whip Gingrich, who was raising money for Republican candidates with the goal of toppling the entrenched Democratic majority in the House.

Boehner worked with Gingrich in putting together the 10-point Contract with America, unveiled in late September 1994 while many political insiders still doubted that Republicans could break the Democrats’ 40-year lock on the House majority. But Gingrich led a national campaign that took advantage of young, outlying Republican talent around the country and gave them positive themes, and plenty of money, to run on. When Republicans defied expectations and won a majority that year, Boehner ran for chairman of the Republican Conference, and with Gingrich’s backing, he beat California Rep. Duncan Hunter 122-102. That made Boehner the No. 4 person in the Republican leadership with the responsibility of preparing the party’s message and coordinating with GOP-allied outside groups.

The Gingrich years were a turbulent time for Boehner. An ethics investigation of Gingrich instigated by the Democrats placed Boehner in the middle of a legal altercation after a Florida couple taped one of Boehner’s cell phone conversations with Republican leaders while he was driving through the state. The tape eventually reached Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, the senior Democrat on the Ethics Committee, who made the contents available to The New York Times. In 1998, Boehner sued McDermott in federal court for invasion of privacy. The two could not agree on a settlement, and the case wound its way through the courts for several years; the Supreme Court denied final review in 2008 and a federal district judge ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $1 million in legal fees.

By 1997, many rank-and-file House Republicans had lost confidence in the leadership team, especially the brilliant but erratic Gingrich. Boehner and other high-level members of the leadership team held secret discussions about whether to try to force Gingrich out as speaker. When their plotting became public, the plan dissolved, and the plotters took most of the heat for appearing to be disloyal and self-serving. Boehner did not survive. After the 1998 elections, during which Republicans lost five seats, Gingrich lost power and Boehner also lost the conference chairmanship to J.C. Watts, an African-American from Oklahoma who argued that Republicans needed a more diverse leadership.

Boehner later told The New Yorker that he immediately began to plan his comeback. “I just walked out of the room, I looked at Barry (his longtime aide Barry Jackson) and I said, ‘We’re just gonna put our heads down, and we’re gonna work our way back.’ And we did.” He plunged into his role as a subcommittee chairman on the Education and the Workforce Committee. In six months, the subcommittee passed eight bills restructuring employer-run health insurance plans. Pleased by Boehner’s initiative and dismayed that other committees had not been as effective, Speaker Hastert adopted many of the subcommittee’s bills as part of the Republican health care agenda. After the 2000 election, Boehner secured the chairmanship of the full committee.

When President George W. Bush assumed office in 2001, he made an overhaul of education policy a top priority, putting Boehner in the driver’s seat of the new administration’s chief domestic initiative. Early on, the new chairman established a working relationship with the chief Democrat on the panel, George Miller of California. Miller believed that current programs weren’t helping disadvantaged children keep up with their peers, and Boehner shared his concern. While other committees dissolved into partisan stalemate, Boehner and Miller worked together on the House version of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which included the president’s mandates for annual testing and increased accountability. It passed the committee and was later overwhelmingly approved by the House, 384-45. Boehner and Miller then worked with their Senate counterparts on a compromise final draft that would be acceptable to both chambers. The House passed the final bill 381-41, with most of the no votes coming from Republicans, and it passed the Senate, 87-10.

In January 2005, as bankrupt airlines began ceding their pension obligations to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Boehner, once again with bipartisan support, pushed for a comprehensive solution to pension problems around the country and then played a leading role in months of painstaking House-Senate negotiations. The legislation, passed in summer 2006, represented a major change in pension law, closing loopholes that had permitted many companies to underfund their plans. It also set deadlines for them to make payments, and created automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans for many workers.

In the fall of 2005, the House Republican leadership was again in turmoil. Majority Leader Tom DeLay was forced to step down after being indicted in Texas for alleged campaign fundraising violations. Hastert named Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri to serve as acting leader. Boehner had been quietly planning for a return to the leadership and privately voiced doubts that Republicans could retain their House majority. In January 2006, he announced he would run against Blunt for majority leader and offered a 37-page campaign manifesto that called for “one big, bold goal” each year and more reliance on the committees to generate legislation. When House Republicans voted, Blunt led with 110 votes to 79 for Boehner and 40 for Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona on the first ballot. On the second ballot, Boehner picked up most of Shadegg’s votes and beat Blunt 122-109. Boehner was back, now as the No. 2 leader in the House.

In contrast to the reserved Hastert, Boehner was sociable and adept at the glad-handing side of politics. He regularly held court just off the House floor with reporters and fellow members, puffing on the ever-present cigarette. As majority leader, he focused on lobbying reform and a crackdown on spending earmarks, which had exploded under Republican rule and damaged the party’s credibility for fiscal restraint. In October 2006, he campaigned around the country, but Republicans lost 31 seats, and their House majority, to the Democrats.

In the wake of that dismal defeat, Hastert announced that he would resign. Boehner ran for minority leader and defeated Indiana’s Mike Pence 168-27. At the beginning of the 110th Congress in early 2007, Boehner gracefully handed over the gavel to Pelosi, the new Democratic speaker. As minority leader, he occasionally cooperated with Democratic leaders, notably on the 2008 economic stimulus bill and Iraq War funding. But under Pelosi (as under Hastert), the minority party played little role in shaping legislation. He led the charge to oust House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York after questions were raised about Rangel’s ethics and financial dealings. On immigration reform, he dropped his earlier advocacy of a middle ground and joined Republican hard-liners who emphasized border security and opposed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

A low moment for Boehner came in the spring of 2008 with the loss of three longtime Republican-held seats in special elections. Boehner tried to buck up his party with assurances that the upcoming November elections were “not going to be as bad as people think.” He turned the focus to the soaring price of oil to spotlight policy differences between the two parties. But in the general election that November, Republicans lost 21 more House seats—including three in Ohio, an abysmal showing and a setback for Boehner, whose only words of encouragement were that it could have been worse, given the party’s low public approval and Bush’s unpopularity.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-6205

(202) 225-0704

LHOB- Longworth House Office Building Room 1011
Washington, DC 20515-3508

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-6205

(202) 225-0704

LHOB- Longworth House Office Building Room 1011
Washington, DC 20515-3508

DISTRICT OFFICE

(513) 779-5400

(513) 779-5315

7969 Cincinnati-Dayton Road Suite B
West Chester, OH 45069-6637

DISTRICT OFFICE

(513) 779-5400

(513) 779-5315

7969 Cincinnati-Dayton Road Suite B
West Chester, OH 45069-6637

DISTRICT OFFICE

(937) 339-1524

(937) 339-1878

12 South Plum Street Suite 2
Troy, OH 45373-5207

DISTRICT OFFICE

(937) 339-1524

(937) 339-1878

12 South Plum Street Suite 2
Troy, OH 45373-5207

DISTRICT OFFICE

(937) 322-1120

76 East High Street 3rd Floor
Springfield, OH 45502-1214

DISTRICT OFFICE

(937) 322-1120

76 East High Street 3rd Floor
Springfield, OH 45502-1214

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

7908 Cincinnati Dayton Road Suite 1
West Chester, OH 45069-6628

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(513) 779-8435

7908 Cincinnati Dayton Road Suite 1
West Chester, OH 45069-6628

Election Results

2014 GENERAL
John Boehner
Votes: 124,925
Percent: 67.31%
Tom Poetter
Votes: 50,622
Percent: 27.28%
Jim Condit
Votes: 10,041
Percent: 5.41%
2012 GENERAL
John Boehner
Unopposed
2012 PRIMARY
John Boehner
Votes: 71,120
Percent: 83.82%
David Lewis
Votes: 13,733
Percent: 16.18%
2010 GENERAL
John Boehner
Votes: 142,731
Percent: 65.64%
Justin Coussoule
Votes: 65,883
Percent: 30.3%
2010 PRIMARY
John Boehner
Votes: 50,555
Percent: 84.67%
Thomas McMasters
Votes: 6,266
Percent: 10.49%
2008 GENERAL
John Boehner
Votes: 202,063
Percent: 67.9%
Nicholas Von Stein
Votes: 95,510
Percent: 32.1%
2008 PRIMARY
John Boehner
Votes: 65,271
Percent: 100.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (66%), 2008 (68%), 2006 (64%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (71%), 2000 (71%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (70%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (74%), 1990 (61%)

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