Will Anyone Remember John Boehner?

With a little more than a year left in his term as speaker, Boehner can cater to his party or work with Democrats to pass legislation.

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, listens to questions during a Republican leadership press conference October 23, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Sixty three percent of respondents in a recent poll indicated that they believe that Boehner should be replaced as the Speaker of the House following the conclusion of the recent government funding and debt limit impasse.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Nov. 12, 2013, 2:24 p.m.

As John Boehner enters his fourth year as House speak­er, his own web­site bio­graphy re­flects little in the way of ma­jor le­gis­lat­ive ac­com­plish­ments while hold­ing the gavel. In­stead it men­tions that he ushered in a ban on ear­marks and a re­quire­ment for bills to be pos­ted on­line be­fore a vote.

And so, with a little more than a year left in his cur­rent term, the na­tion’s 53rd speak­er faces a choice: He can spend the next year much like the last, try­ing to re­con­cile the ram­bunc­tious tea-party wing of his con­fer­ence with more-mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in a stand against Demo­crats in the Sen­ate and the White House. Or, he can work with House Demo­crats and a loose co­ali­tion of roughly 30 Re­pub­lic­ans who have teamed in the last year to reau­thor­ize the Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men Act, sup­ply fund­ing for vic­tims of Hur­ricane Sandy, and end the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“His­tory gen­er­ally looks kindly upon those in­di­vidu­als who either stood out­side the pack and dis­played foresight and cour­age, or those with a knack for com­prom­ise and get­ting the job done,” said polit­ic­al poll­ster and au­thor John Zo­gby. “It is hard to re­mem­ber much writ­ten about those who simply kept their job.”

He ad­ded: “If a por­trait in the hall and a wiki stat­ing his title are suf­fi­cient, so be it.”

Boehner’s cur­rent strategy has brought more con­flict than comity in re­cent months, but it has earned him a meas­ure of re­spect with­in his con­fer­ence — es­pe­cially among fresh­man and sopho­more con­ser­vat­ives — even as Re­pub­lic­ans have been wounded in na­tion­wide polls.

Yet there are also those who say he is squan­der­ing his lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion in the face of enorm­ous crisis, too of­ten hand­cuffed by his own party to pur­sue com­prom­ise and le­git­im­ate le­gis­lat­ive achieve­ments.

“My sense is that John Boehner’s best le­gis­lat­ive days are be­hind him,” said Sarah Bind­er, a seni­or fel­low in gov­ernance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and pro­fess­or of polit­ic­al sci­ence at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity.

But not ne­ces­sar­ily his days as speak­er. The Ohio Re­pub­lic­an is plan­ning to run again for his con­gres­sion­al seat in 2014 and his spokes­man, Mi­chael Steel, says he “has been clear, pub­licly and privately, that he in­tends to be speak­er again in the next Con­gress.

“And frankly, the idea that he might ever aban­don his mem­bers and his prin­ciples is a stu­pid lib­er­al fantasy,” Steel said.

What is clear is that Boehner is now al­most halfway through his second ses­sion as the House’s top lead­er (he’s been the top Re­pub­lic­an in the House since 2007, be­fore the GOP took over the ma­jor­ity in 2011) and it would be very dif­fi­cult to re­place him.

House rules make it very hard to de­pose the speak­er. One ham-fis­ted ef­fort by sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ives earli­er this year failed to even gen­er­ate a chal­lenger bold enough to put his or her name out pub­licly. Even if one were to emerge now, the rules hold that a speak­er must be elec­ted by a ma­jor­ity of the en­tire House. That means any such chal­lenger would re­quire the near com­plete sup­port of Boehner’s own con­fer­ence and, lack­ing that, some un­likely sup­port from Demo­crats.

Equally clear is that Boehner does have op­tions in the time be­fore he stands for a vote on his speak­er­ship again. There have been sev­er­al in­stances in re­cent months in which Boehner has en­joyed the re­li­able back­ing of a “cen­ter-left” co­ali­tion of Re­pub­lic­ans who, com­bined with large num­bers of House Demo­crats, are cap­able of passing vi­tal le­gis­la­tion.

This co­ali­tion in­cludes 30 Re­pub­lic­ans who voted to end the shut­down, to reau­thor­ize the Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men Act, and to grant fund­ing for Sandy vic­tims. There are 44 who voted for at least two of these bills. Fully 87 Re­pub­lic­ans helped to pass last month’s le­gis­la­tion to re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing and ex­tend the debt ceil­ing, join­ing 198 Demo­crats in ap­prov­ing it against the op­pos­i­tion of 144 Re­pub­lic­ans.

This group doesn’t re­cog­nize it­self as a single or­gan­ized caucus, and it is a mix of Old Bull mem­bers, young­er Re­pub­lic­ans, and long­time friends of Boehner. Look­ing at this, some con­gres­sion­al ex­perts sug­gest Boehner could work to uni­fy co­ali­tions of Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats to sup­port com­prom­ise solu­tions on fisc­al mat­ters, en­ti­tle­ment and tax re­form, pieces of im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and oth­er policies.

“His­tory can be kinder to a lead­er who crossed the lines than someone who al­ways stayed in between,” Zo­gby said.

But oth­ers of­fer pess­im­ism. Be­ing a uni­fi­er is “not how he got the job,” says Rice Uni­versity polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist Paul Brace.

Brace notes that Boehner was elec­ted to Con­gress in a solidly Re­pub­lic­an dis­trict by chal­len­ging a scan­dal-rid­den in­cum­bent, and that his ca­reer be­ne­fit­ted from op­por­tun­it­ies arising from tu­mult in Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship.

“He is a Cham­ber-of-Com­merce or coun­try-club Re­pub­lic­an that achieved lead­er­ship largely be­cause of di­vi­sions with­in the GOP, not be­cause he could uni­fy the party,” Brace said.

Bind­er re­called a time when Boehner had a repu­ta­tion as a le­gis­lat­ive deal-maker, cit­ing his con­tri­bu­tions to the No Child Left Be­hind law from his perch on the House Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee.

But she also said that “lead­ing from the speak­er­ship is hard — he can’t com­mand loy­alty from his rank and file. And giv­en the Far Right’s res­ist­ance to com­prom­ise and giv­en the speak­er’s un­will­ing­ness to gov­ern with Demo­crat­ic votes, his op­por­tun­it­ies for land­mark le­gis­lat­ive deals seem par­tic­u­larly slim.”

Wil­li­am Hoag­land, a seni­or vice pres­id­ent at the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter and former Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee staff dir­ect­or, says the ques­tion is wheth­er any­one else — such as Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor or Budget Chair­man Paul Ry­an — could do any bet­ter.

“At the end of the day, his leg­acy might simply be that he kept the House in Re­pub­lic­an con­trol,” Hoag­land said. “Or maybe not.”

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