John Boehner’s Inner Circle

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013.  Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching. But there was no sign of yielding Saturday in a down-to-the-wire struggle that tea party lawmakers are using to try derailing President Barack Obama's health care law.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Sept. 30, 2013, 6:14 p.m.

They are not part of the elec­ted House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship team, nor are most of them com­mit­tee chair­men. Rather, they are his crew, his bud­dies, col­leagues who have his back.

Like most con­gres­sion­al lead­ers, Speak­er John Boehner turns to an in­ner circle for coun­sel in rough times like these — and they may not be the people you think.

Reps. Tom Lath­am of Iowa, Pat Tiberi of Ohio, and Mike Simpson of Idaho — House vet­er­ans, but not house­hold names — are on the list. Not­ably ab­sent are Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor of Vir­gin­ia and Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy of Cali­for­nia, both of whom are al­lies but also rep­res­ent rival power cen­ters in the fam­ously frac­tious cham­ber.

If the Dean Mar­tinesque Boehner, styl­ish with his pressed suits, oc­ca­sion­al ci­gar­ette, and per­petu­al tan, were to have a Rat Pack of his own, this roster of about 20 or so law­makers would be it. Some­times, they are vehicles the speak­er uses to pub­licly float his ideas, de­fend his de­cisions, or shoot down chal­lenges. Oth­er times, they simply give ad­vice. “Mor­al sup­port, mostly,” Lath­am says.

“They provide a little bit of everything, in­clud­ing telling Boehner things he might not want to hear — but needs to,” of­fers former Rep. Steve La­Tour­ette, a cent­rist Re­pub­lic­an, fel­low Ohioan, and, un­til his re­tire­ment after the last Con­gress, part of this group.

While there is noth­ing of­fi­cial, the group does have reg­u­lar lunches about once a month, ac­cord­ing to Lath­am, who was re­luct­ant to even ac­know­ledge its ex­ist­ence.

Many of these Boehner al­lies helped him mount his suc­cess­ful in­sur­gent cam­paign for House ma­jor­ity lead­er against then-act­ing lead­er Roy Blunt of Mis­souri back in 2006. Some of them were part of his un­of­fi­cial whip op­er­a­tion in that lead­er­ship race.

But there re­mains no of­fi­cial mem­ber­ship list. And if there was one, says La­Tour­ette, there would be lay­ers to it.

For in­stance, he named Tiberi, Simpson, Lath­am, and Sens. Saxby Cham­b­liss of Geor­gia and Richard Burr of North Car­o­lina, both former rep­res­ent­at­ives. Boehner also counts on Rep. Greg Walden of Ore­gon, his ap­poin­ted Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Cam­paign Com­mit­tee chair­man, and Rep. Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, the pre­vi­ous NR­CC chair­man and now Rules Com­mit­tee chair­man, to ad­vise him about the polit­ic­al scene. And there is Boehner’s “Ohio Mafia,” in­clud­ing Reps. Steve Stivers and Bob Latta.

Bey­ond these mem­bers, La­Tour­ette, law­makers, and aides also list Reps. Charles Bous­tany of Louisi­ana; Doc Hast­ings of Wash­ing­ton; Frank Lu­cas of Ok­lahoma; Frank Lo­Bi­ondo of New Jer­sey; and Mi­chael Mc­Caul and Sam John­son of Texas. There are also new­er mem­bers, such as Rep. Rick Craw­ford of Arkan­sas.

How does this group help Boehner?

Some have been ex­tremely vo­cal in the cur­rent de­bate over fund­ing the gov­ern­ment and avoid­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Simpson, for ex­ample, spoke can­didly in Septem­ber when a House lead­er­ship plan to force the Sen­ate to take a vote on de­fund­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act was re­jec­ted by con­ser­vat­ives in fa­vor of a bill that would ac­tu­ally de­fund Obama­care.

“I thought lead­er­ship put to­geth­er a really good plan,” Simpson kept telling re­port­ers.

On one such oc­ca­sion, he got more force­ful. “I think there’s a num­ber of people who don’t re­mem­ber when the gov­ern­ment was shut down last time [in 1996] and who car­ried the bur­den of that. That was Re­pub­lic­ans.”

Of the hard-liners, Simpson said, “I’m not say­ing they want to shut the gov­ern­ment down. They want to de­fund Obama­care. But if [that is] the in­ev­it­able res­ult of the po­s­i­tion you’re tak­ing and the hard stance you’re tak­ing on something — yeah, you’re re­spons­ible for it.”

In­deed, Boehner’s al­lies of­ten try to help re­port­ers bet­ter un­der­stand vari­ous nu­ances of what he is do­ing. That’s im­port­ant, be­cause there is no short­age of voices in the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence eager to knock the speak­er. Un­like Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi’s meet­ings with her caucus when she was speak­er, Boehner of­ten faces blatant dis­respect.

“They also re­port back “˜in­tel­li­gence’ — well, maybe that’s a strong word,” La­Tour­ette said. “They tell him about the true and un­true ru­mors with­in the con­fer­ence.”

One re­cent ex­ample was get­ting word back to the speak­er that a move­ment was afoot, led by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to al­low the use of some ear­marks to help speed le­gis­la­tion along. Boehner found out early enough to snuff out the ef­fort.

Some might think it odd that Can­tor and Mc­Carthy — and, for that mat­ter, Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an of Wis­con­sin, the GOP’s 2012 vice pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate — are miss­ing from the list

Not so, La­Tour­ette says. He points to the long-stand­ing tur­moil between Boehner and Can­tor that may have con­trib­uted to the lead­er­ship team’s in­ab­il­ity to share the wheel. La­Tour­ette ac­know­ledges that the re­la­tion­ship between the two has im­proved more re­cently, say­ing “they seem to be more on the same page now.”

But when it comes to those Boehner turns to in times of trouble, La­Tour­ette says, it’s not al­ways the titled lead­er­ship of the GOP con­fer­ence.

As he put it, “You need someone who’s got your back.”

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