Can John Boehner Win?

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) answers reporters' questions during a brief news conference after the weekly House Republican Caucus meeting at the Capitol, July 31, 2013.
National Journal
Michael Catalin and Billy House
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin Billy House
Sept. 30, 2013, 6:23 p.m.

Speak­er John Boehner has been a pivotal play­er in a seem­ingly no-win game.

With a deal to avert a gov­ern­ment shut­down sub­ject to a series of vol­leys between the House and the Sen­ate as the mid­night Monday dead­line neared, the Ohio Re­pub­lic­an’s repu­ta­tion and his place in his­tory were called in­to ques­tion.

“Act like the speak­er of the House and not a speak­er of the Re­pub­lic­ans,” urged Sen. Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Monday, a char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of Boehner’s ap­proach she sug­ges­ted was not the way former Demo­crat­ic Speak­er Tip O’Neill would have handled things.

In the House, some GOP cent­rists like Reps. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., were pub­licly sug­gest­ing it was time for Boehner to do what he be­lieves. That would have been, ac­cord­ing to Dent, for Boehner to set aside de­mands of hard-liners in his con­fer­ence in fa­vor of a stop­gap spend­ing bill without the anti-Obama­care pro­vi­sions that Pres­id­ent Obama and the Sen­ate were sure to re­ject.

But a move like that is risky in today’s polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment.

“He’d win the ap­prov­al of his­tory and pun­dits if he had chosen to break with the hard-liners, but that would come at the cost of his po­s­i­tion, for the hard-liners would not vote for him again,” sug­ges­ted Brooks Simpson, a his­tor­i­an at Ari­zona State Uni­versity.

“I sus­pect he likes be­ing speak­er in name too much to act as speak­er in fact…. He’s no Henry Clay or Sam Ray­burn,” Simpson said.

Polit­ic­al-sci­ence pro­fess­or Paul Brace of Rice Uni­versity says Boehner will be re­membered as a speak­er forced to con­front hard choices, no mat­ter what their out­come in com­ing days.

“Form­ally power­ful but prac­tic­ally neutered, an ob­ject of scorn among GOP hard-liners and the tra­di­tion­al “˜whip­ping boy’ of his par­tis­an op­pos­i­tion, there are few ways for­ward that are rosy for the speak­er,” Brace said. “He will likely be viewed as culp­able for a shut­down, but a sym­bol of ap­pease­ment if no shut­down.”

“While im­me­di­ate con­sequences will likely em­an­ate from his choices, time will tell how his­tory un­packs his leg­acy as he weighs his rock-and-hard-place op­tions,” he ad­ded.

Many House Re­pub­lic­ans, par­tic­u­larly con­ser­vat­ives, re­main sus­pi­cious of Boehner as someone too eager to cut deals with Obama and Demo­crats.

It’s a sen­ti­ment that’s led him to walk a tightrope, and caused some tense days be­fore his reelec­tion as speak­er by a bare ma­jor­ity in Janu­ary. Just two years earli­er, Boehner won all GOP votes in his first elec­tion.

On the oth­er hand, any would-be suc­cessors from the House’s con­ser­vat­ive wing would them­selves have to worry about keep­ing mod­er­ates in the con­fer­ence happy, at the risk of los­ing sup­port.

But one House con­ser­vat­ive says he’s come to sym­path­ize with Boehner for be­ing such a tar­get of hard-liners. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ar­iz., said its really un­fair not to give the speak­er some cred­it for hav­ing to do battle not only with Demo­crats in the Sen­ate and a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent, but the me­dia, as well.

“The real­ity is the en­gin­eer­ing here does not all add up to our fa­vor,” said Franks, who ad­ded that he thinks Boehner has been able “to make lem­on­ade out of this much more than some give him cred­it for.”

Boehner is also a fa­vor­ite punch­ing bag for Sen­ate Demo­crats. Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., reg­u­larly says he feels sorry for the speak­er. Any­one who knows Boehner, Schu­mer says, knows he’s not as ex­treme as the tea-party wing of his caucus.

“Now, the funny thing is, Speak­er Boehner knows he won’t suc­ceed but the hard Right is de­mand­ing a pound of flesh to show how ser­i­ous they are, how much they hate Obama­care,” Schu­mer said. “By go­ing along with the hard Right, Speak­er Boehner is like the an­cient May­ans, mak­ing a sac­ri­fi­cial of­fer­ing to the right-wing gods by re­fus­ing to ac­cept a clean CR.”

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., who has re­cently taken to call­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans “an­arch­ists,” used school-yard im­agery to de­scribe the con­ser­vat­ive wing of the House GOP.

“With a bully, you can­not let them slap you around, be­cause they slap you around today, if they slap you five or six times, to­mor­row it’s sev­en or eight times,” Re­id said.

As for the Sen­ate, Re­id said, “we are not go­ing to be bul­lied. We have done everything we can, and we’ve done it very reas­on­ably.”

What We're Following See More »
UNTIL DEC. 9, ANYWAY
Obama Signs Bill to Fund Government
4 hours ago
THE LATEST
REDSKINS IMPLICATIONS
SCOTUS to Hear Case on Offensive Trademarks
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Supreme Court is taking up a First Amendment clash over the government’s refusal to register offensive trademarks, a case that could affect the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. The justices agreed Thursday to hear a dispute involving an Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but they did not act on a separate request to hear the higher-profile Redskins case at the same time." Still, any precedent set by the case could have ramifications for the Washington football team.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Bannon Still Collecting Royalties from ‘Seinfeld’
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a little-known intersection of politics and entertainment, in which Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is still raking in residuals from Seinfeld. Here's the digest version: When Seinfeld was in its infancy, Ted Turner was in the process of acquiring its production company, Castle Rock, but he was under-capitalized. Bannon's fledgling media company put up the remaining funds, and he agreed to "participation rights" instead of a fee. "Seinfeld has reaped more than $3 billion in its post-network afterlife through syndication deals." Meanwhile, Bannon is "still cashing checks from Seinfeld, and observers say he has made nearly 25 times more off the Castle Rock deal than he had anticipated."

Source:
IT’S ALL CLINTON
Reliable Poll Data Coming in RE: Debate #1
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
NEXT THURSDAY
Trump Transition Team Meeting with Silicon Valley VIPs
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Donald Trump's "transition team will meet next week with representatives of the tech industry, multiple sources confirmed, even as their candidate largely has been largely shunned by Silicon Valley. The meeting, scheduled for next Thursday at the offices of law and lobbying firm BakerHostetler, will include trade groups like the Information Technology Industry Council and the Internet Association that represent major Silicon Valley companies."

Source:
×