Defying odds, Boehner ascends to Speaker, completing comeback

On Wednesday, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will become the 53rd Speaker of the House, and his first address as the chamber’s top member will focus on cutting the nation’s record deficit and creating jobs.

Twelve years after being ousted from the Republican leadership, Boehner has defied the odds and will grab the Speaker’s gavel from soon-to-be-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

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With his 11 brothers and sisters watching from the chamber, Boehner will outline how he plans to run the House and the issues he will focus on. Many on Capitol Hill expect Boehner, who is prone to tears, to get emotional as he fulfills what he has called the American Dream.

The House will first officially select Boehner as Speaker as every member will call out his or her choice for the top post. Most Democrats are expected to select Pelosi, and all Republicans are expected to support Boehner. 

Boehner’s speech, according to GOP staffers, will tackle spending cuts in a clear nod to the Tea Party that helped catapult House Republicans to their majority status. It will also stress the need to create jobs and improve the nation’s ailing economy. 

The 61-year-old lawmaker will note the difficult decisions Congress will face on spending. As Speaker, Boehner will soon face the difficult task of trying to collect enough votes to pass a measure that would increase the nation’s debt limit, which has been endorsed by the Obama administration. A few Republicans have already indicated they will oppose such an effort, which are typically resisted by the minority party. 

Boehner will urge lawmakers to listen to voters and “abide by their will,” according to a leadership aide. There are 82 incoming GOP freshmen in the House, the largest Republican class in nine decades.

Boehner is also expected to discuss changing the way the House has worked under both Republicans and Democrats.

In an interview last year, Boehner told The Hill, “If we gain the majority and I am Speaker, I’m going to run the House differently than it’s being run today and I’m going to run it differently than my Republican predecessors ran it.”

Boehner last month said he would not embrace former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) “majority of the majority” rule, where bills could not hit the House floor unless most of the Republican majority backed them. 

Republican leaders in the House have also indicated they will allow Democratic amendments to come to the floor and won’t strong-arm their members to oppose them. That is a significant departure from how Hastert, Pelosi and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) ran the House. Hastert in 2003 famously kept open a roll call vote for nearly three hours to pass a Medicare prescription drug bill.

In another vow, House Republicans have promised to let the public view legislation 72 hours before it is voted on. Both parties have made similar pledges before, but failed to follow through.

Former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) said that Boehner needs to give a well-rounded speech. He said it should touch on the concerns of the newly elected members who “feel he may not be conservative enough,” as well as appeal to independent voters.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) told The Hill that Boehner should emphasize that he will make good on his promise to reduce the size of government. 

“He needs to invoke confidence to everybody that the vision is solid and that the follow-through is well-planned, that we will be reducing the size of government, reducing spending, creating jobs,” Kingston said.

The jovial Boehner is well-liked in the House, and is not one to hold a grudge.

That helped him make a remarkable political comeback that few could have foreseen a dozen years ago. Boehner was ousted as the No. 4 Republican in the House after the GOP fell short of expectations in the 1998 midterm elections. Some thought Boehner would leave the House, but he subsequently became chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, helping craft the landmark No Child Left Behind law. 

In early 2006, he beat then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to become majority leader and withstood two separate challenges to his top GOP perch after Democrats won the House in 2006 and then added to their majority in 2008. 

Last year, Boehner said his leadership style doesn’t involve high drama: “I don’t yell. I don’t do anger. I’m not dictatorial … I know where I want to go and try to build consensus and support to achieve the goals we set.” 

Still, Boehner will be leading a House GOP conference that is expected to be very confrontational with the Obama White House. He refused to use the word “compromise” in a recent “60 Minutes” interview, preferring to say he is willing to find “common ground” with the White House.

Boehner has scheduled a vote next week to repeal President Obama’s signature achievement of the 111th Congress: healthcare reform. All Republicans and a few Democrats are expected to support that measure, which will likely stall in the Senate.

Boehner says that unlike Pelosi, he will not write legislation from the Speaker’s office and instead will defer more to his committee chairmen. 

He urges his colleagues to be civil — or, as he says, “act like adults.” Another saying he invokes is, “You can disagree but not be disagreeable.”

Davis, who was elected in the GOP revolution of 1994, said that Boehner learned from previous GOP Speakers that it’s imperative to keep the freshmen involved.

“With a majority like this, you’ve got to keep them busy. It’s one thing we found out that if you’re feeding barracudas and you don’t feed them every day, they’ll turn on you,” Davis added.