By Molly K. Hooper - 07/08/12 10:00 AM EDT
Mitt Romney and John Boehner have known each other for years, but the bond between the would-be president and the House Speaker has become stronger in recent weeks, according to GOP insiders.
The two men have not appeared many times in public, but sources say they and their staffs are in constant contact.
During the heated 2012 GOP presidential primary, Boehner refrained from endorsing any contender – unlike his deputies, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who both endorsed Romney early on.
Since officially backing Romney in April — after it was clear that Romney would be the GOP nominee — Boehner has held one meeting and attended only one public rally with Romney.
GOP operatives say that the lack of joint events should not be misinterpreted as a sign of disconnect. In fact, the relationship between Boehner and Romney has evolved into one of deep respect and behind-the-scenes communication.
“From Boehner's perspective — there's a lot of comfort there, and he feels good about [Romney] and a lot of collegiality and has become pretty close to the operation of the governor,” a source close to the Speaker said.
Romney and Boehner have both been called country club Republicans. They certainly share some similarities, though they experienced much different upbringings.
Boehner was raised in a working-class Catholic family near Cincinnati. The Speaker’s father owned a bar, while Romney’s father ran a motor company and served as governor of Michigan.
Boehner wears his emotions on his sleeve, while Romney rarely does. The Ohio lawmaker has a penchant for cigarettes and red wine. Romney, a Mormon, stays clear of spirits and nicotine.
But both Boehner and Romney started their careers in business, and fell into politics.
Boehner said as much at the rally attended with Romney in June.
The Speaker told a crowd of his constituents gathered outside a favorite political burger stop in Ohio that he and Romney understand what it will take to fix the ailing economy.
"Before I got into this crazy business, I ran a small business ... just like Mitt Romney did. We understand how the economy works, we understand what it takes to get the American people back to work, we need someone in the White House who understands our economy, somebody who's balanced a budget, who has returned taxpayer dollars to the people of his state — you know who that person is, it's Mitt Romney,” Boehner shouted to the applause of supporters, over chants of “Romney Go Home!” repeated by a dozen protestors.
The duo has similar styles, mostly adhering to conservative principles while remaining open to cutting deals with the other side of the aisle to move legislation. Some of those bipartisan agreements have sparked factions of the right to criticize Boehner and the presumptive GOP 2012 nominee.
A GOP lawmaker in Boehner’s inner circle, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said, “I think their styles and personalities are a lot alike ... not their habits,” the lawmaker said, adding of Romney, “he’s a lot easier to talk to than he comes across.”
Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) observed that the Boehner-Romney dynamic would work well should Republicans retain the House and Romney win the White House.
"The only place they probably disagree is smoking, but other than that I think they view the world in very similar ways. They certainly have worked well together since Romney's emerged as the nominee, and I think they would work very well together as president and Speaker,” Cole told The Hill.
The coordination between Boehner and Romney was evident this spring after the ex-governor embraced legislation that would keep student loan interest rates from doubling. The House GOP-passed budget didn’t include such a policy, but Boehner quickly pivoted and scheduled a vote on a bill that mirrored Romney’s wishes.
The Boehner-Romney relationship has evolved over the past 15 years. Sources say it started to develop in earnest after Romney became governor in 2002.
Romney testified before then-Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Boehner’s committee in 2005 to discuss expanding the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
A knowledgeable source recalled that panel members were impressed with Romney’s appearance — even though Romney and Boehner didn’t agree on whether to expand NCLB at that time.
Nearly one year later, as he was exploring the possibility of running for president, Romney made a point of meeting with Boehner, who had recently become majority leader of the House.
Since becoming the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in April, Romney and Boehner have beefed up communication directly and between their staffs.
Former Boehner press secretary and now Romney adviser Kevin Madden said “Romney World and Boehner Land work pretty well together. I'm one of the people who has been in both. I think it's been a pretty seamless, working relationship in that regard because we've got mutual respect and mutual goals.”
Unlike Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently met Romney for the first time this year.
But sources close to the leaders note that Senate Republicans have been involved in the weekly communication between Romney and Boehner leadership staffers. McConnell talks on the phone with Romney “on a regular basis,” a Republican source said.
Cole notes, “I think each one of those three people knows their respective roles and will work together and on the policies, there simply is no major division.”
Congressional Democrats, however, will be looking to expose daylight between Boehner and Romney between now and Election Day.
A high profile difference between Romney and the GOP-led House is on China currency. Romney has accused China of currency manipulation and the Democratic-led Senate has passed a bipartisan bill on the issue. Boehner has dubbed the measure “dangerous.”
Cole noted that China currency would not likely dominate the agenda at the start of a would-be Romney administration.
“[China currency] is an important issue but nothing is as important as the economy, deficit reduction and Obamacare and that's what we'll end up spending the first year dealing with, if Governor Romney is elected president," Cole said.