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 »
BOON TO PROSECUTORS
SCOTUS Rules that Insider Trading Can’t Be “Gifted”
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a unanimous decision, "the Supreme Court on Tuesday said it violates insider-trading laws for a corporate officer to make a “gift” of insider information to a relative, a decision that makes it easier for those who police Wall Street to bring prosecutions."

Source:
EFFORT LIKELY TO DIE IN COMMITTEE
Jordan Can’t Force a Floor Vote on Impeaching Koskinen
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan attempted to force a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but "the House voted overwhelmingly to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. ... The committee will not be required to take up the resolution." Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "made a motion to table the resolution, which the House voted against by a 180-235 margin, mostly along party lines."
Source:
AFTER THE VOTE FOR SPEAKER
Ryan: No Committee Assignments Until New Year
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

House Speaker Paul Ryan has decreed that House members "won’t receive their committee assignments until January — after they cast a public vote on the House floor for speaker. "The move has sparked behind-the-scenes grumbling from a handful of Ryan critics, who say the delay allows him and the Speaker-aligned Steering Committee to dole out committee assignments based on political loyalty rather than merit or expertise." The roll call to elect the speaker is set for Jan. 3, the first vote of the new Congress.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
IT’S OFFICIAL
Trump to Nominate Carson to Lead HUD
1 days ago
THE LATEST

As has been rumored for a week, Donald Trump will nominate Ben Carson, his former rival, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In a statement, Trump said, "We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login