One Word John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi Won’t Utter

US Representative John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, holds up his gavel after being re-elected as Speaker of the House alongside US Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and returning Minority Leader, during the opening session of the 113th US House of Representatives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 3, 2013.  
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Feb. 4, 2014, 4:42 p.m.

Ask John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi if they are eye­ing the door, and they will deny it. It’s a ques­tion they get with some reg­u­lar­ity, and both the speak­er and the minor­ity lead­er in­sist they are run­ning for reelec­tion and ex­pect to keep their jobs.

But con­sider this: Even if one or the oth­er were con­tem­plat­ing re­tire­ment, they would not likely say it out loud — at least not any­time soon.

While there’s no doubt that Boehner, 64, and Pelosi, 73, will have luc­rat­ive op­por­tun­it­ies after Con­gress — books, lec­tures, con­sult­ing, or oth­er well-paid jobs — there are a bevy of reas­ons why savvy le­gis­lat­ive lead­ers will keep their plans secret un­til after Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions.

From the abil­ity to raise money to the chance to help name a suc­cessor, life is easi­er in Con­gress for those not haunted by ma­jor ques­tions about their fu­ture plans, es­pe­cially if those plans in­volve leav­ing the cham­ber.

As one Re­pub­lic­an law­maker put it, “Who’s go­ing to go out of their way to put their neck out for some­body who is not go­ing to be around next year?”

FUN­DRAIS­ING

For all the cri­ti­cism that she po­lar­izes voters, Pelosi has been the “golden hand­cuffs” for House Demo­crats for years. She is a mas­ter fun­draiser.

This cycle, Pelosi has raised $35.5 mil­lion as of Jan. 1, in­clud­ing $26.7 mil­lion dir­ectly for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

House Demo­crat­ic Caucus mem­bers re­cog­nize that much of this suc­cess comes be­cause of the Bay Area law­maker’s spe­cial ties to a broad lib­er­al base — ties that are not eas­ily rep­lic­ated.

Boehner is no fun­drais­ing slouch, either. Aides say he raised more than $54 mil­lion as of Jan. 1, a fig­ure that in­cludes funds raised dir­ectly to Boehner’s com­mit­tees, Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates, and state and fed­er­al party com­mit­tees.

But donors give to people who are in con­trol. Any hint of re­tire­ment could im­pact the flow of money — and that’s not something either would do 10 months be­fore an elec­tion.

The same could largely be said for polit­ic­al power. It is wiel­ded by those in of­fice — not those on their way out — and politi­cians who an­nounce their de­par­ture early can put them­selves at a dis­ad­vant­age. Lame ducks in lead­er­ship are ask­ing for trouble.

While Pelosi has had prob­lems wrest­ling with a highly di­verse caucus over time, Boehner may have it worse. The con­ser­vat­ive wing of his con­fer­ence has force­fully ex­er­ted its will on oc­ca­sion, mak­ing it tough for Boehner to call dif­fi­cult votes or ne­go­ti­ate with Sen­ate Demo­crats.

SUC­CES­SION

A re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment by Boehner or Pelosi would make huge waves in either party. But that may be par­tic­u­larly true for Pelosi, whose de­par­ture could un­leash a whirl­wind of in­tern­al up­heav­al in the Demo­crat­ic Caucus as law­makers jockey to fill her lead­er­ship post and oth­er jobs down the lad­der.

A too-early an­nounce­ment could also di­min­ish Pelosi’s abil­ity to in­flu­ence who takes over.

Pelosi’s second in com­mand, Rep. Steny Hoy­er of Mary­land, has long toiled in her shad­ow. But the party could pass the bat­on to a new gen­er­a­tion (es­pe­cially giv­en the young bench on the Re­pub­lic­an side). Fu­ture party lead­ers in­clude DCCC Chair­man Steve Is­rael of New York; Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Debbie Wasser­man Schultz of Flor­ida; Rep. Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land, the Budget Com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber; Rep. Xavi­er Be­cerra of Cali­for­nia, the caucus chair­man; and Rep. Joseph Crow­ley of New York, the caucus vice chair­man.

On the Re­pub­lic­an side, Boehner al­lies say he fully ex­pects that his second in com­mand, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor of Vir­gin­ia, will suc­ceed him. But what Boehner and Can­tor fully ex­pect may not ne­ces­sar­ily be what the vo­ci­fer­ous GOP con­fer­ence wants. There are young­er young guns in the GOP nowadays, and they may want to be heard.

As for their House seats, Boehner is not widely known to fa­vor a po­ten­tial suc­cessor. But one Demo­crat­ic law­maker says there con­tin­ues to be talk with­in the caucus that Pelosi wants to pave the way for her daugh­ter, Christine Pelosi, to take over her House seat.

LEG­ACY

Of course, there’s al­ways the de­sire to go out on top.

The no­tion that Demo­crats can take back the House ma­jor­ity this fall is a long shot. But if they did, that would hand Pelosi the speak­er’s gavel once again.

For Boehner, the ques­tion might be what his speak­er­ship would look like if the GOP also con­trolled the Sen­ate, which is a far more real­ist­ic pro­spect. Of course, the White House would still be oc­cu­pied by a Demo­crat. But some col­leagues say Boehner rel­ishes the pro­spect of work­ing with a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate.

And then there’s the ques­tion of what the cham­ber can ac­tu­ally do. Land­mark le­gis­la­tion doesn’t ap­pear to be on the ho­ri­zon this year. But there are many things that the speak­er and the minor­ity lead­er can do to burn­ish or add to their his­tor­ic­al legacies be­fore they go.

The clock may be tick­ing.

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