Boehner returns to the spotlight

Boehner returns to the spotlight
© Greg Nash

Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank Chaffetz calls for ,500 legislator housing stipend GOP super-PAC promises big spending in 2018 MORE is out of Congress, but he clearly isn’t done with politics.

The Ohio Republican is back in the spotlight a full six months after he stunned Washington by resigning from the job that is second in line to the presidency.

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BoehnerJohn BoehnerTea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank Chaffetz calls for ,500 legislator housing stipend GOP super-PAC promises big spending in 2018 MORE ripped into Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzKoch-backed group launches new ads on tax reform Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want Overnight Healthcare: GOP infighting erupts over bill | How Republican governors could bring down ObamaCare repeal | Schumer asks Trump to meet with Dems MORE (R-Texas), a longtime foe, in remarks to Stanford University students last week, calling the GOP presidential candidate a “miserable son of a bitch” and “Lucifer in the flesh.” He also said that he and GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLabor’s lonely decline Democrats target Trump's border wall in defense bill debate Obama ethics czar: Trump fundraiser at his DC hotel ‘illegal’ MORE were “texting buddies.”

Days later, Boehner made a surprise cameo in a video for President Obama’s final White House Correspondents’ Association dinner speech that depicted the president seeking advice on what to do with his post-Oval Office life.

Those who know the former Speaker well say Boehner is just displaying his trademark candor.

“He’s always been a guy whose instinct is to call it the way he sees it and let the chips fall where they may,” said Boehner spokesman David Schnittger, a former aide who now works as a senior policy adviser at Squire Patton Boggs.

Boehner has been on the speaking circuit for most of the year, according to Schnittger, with many engagements including “some pretty frank assessments of the current state of the government and political system.” His comments at Stanford were simply among those that made their way into the media.

“In the case of last week, some of his more candid comments happened to be reported. But there was nothing deliberate or calculated about the timing,” Schnittger said. 

In the correspondents’ dinner video filmed secretly last Friday, Boehner and Obama are seen wearing aviator sunglasses and strolling through White House hallways as the former Speaker holds a glass of red wine — presumably his preferred merlot. He even tempts Obama with a cigarette, a joke that Boehner later said was the president’s idea. 

“I finally got the grand bargain — on a sweet Chevy Tahoe,” Boehner told Obama, a joking reference to their failure to secure a major bipartisan spending deal.

Like other former officeholders before him, Boehner has signed on with the Harry Walker Agency’s Speakers Bureau, which boasts names like former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonFormer WH press secretaries: End live daily press briefings Jared Kushner hires Abbe Lowell for legal team Overnight Energy: Trump White House kicks off 'Energy Week' MORE and former Vice President Dick Cheney. He splits time between his home in West Chester, Ohio, his longtime D.C. apartment and a condo in Marco Island, Fla. 

Since leaving the Speakership, Boehner has largely avoided media interviews, limiting his public appearances to speeches.

In addition to Stanford students, he has spoken publicly and privately before groups like the U.S. Foundation for Liberty, which advocates for human rights in Iran, and BMO Financial Group’s board of directors. 

Boehner made perhaps the biggest media splash last week when criticizing Cruz, but he’s made headlines on several occasions since leaving office.

In March, Boehner drew attention when he told an industry group conference that the GOP could nominate his successor, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Tougher Russia sanctions bill facing another setback MORE (R-Wis.), in the event the party has a contested presidential convention this summer. 

A day earlier, he made a point of issuing a statement congratulating Warren Davidson, who won the primary to replace him in Ohio’s 8th District. Davidson was endorsed by fellow Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus that led the push to oust Boehner out of the Speakership. 

Boehner’s spokesman downplayed talk that Davidson’s primary win amounted to a rejection of the former Speaker and his legacy.

And when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, Boehner wrote an op-ed revealing that he tried to recruit Scalia to be the GOP’s 1996 vice presidential nominee. 

He even scored a legislative victory last week when the House passed a bill on Friday to renew a D.C. school voucher program that he had championed in Congress.

But it was Boehner’s profane criticism of Cruz that made the biggest waves.

Republicans who were eager to see Boehner leave GOP leadership saw his comments about Cruz as more evidence that he isn’t a true conservative. 

“We hope Boehner finds some class as he continues his retirement. Maybe more time will help him become less bitter,” Adam Brandon, CEO of FreedomWorks, a major Tea Party group, said as Boehner’s remarks ricocheted around the internet.

Cruz tried to used Boehner’s attack to his advantage, fundraising off the remarks and bringing them up unprompted during an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” 

“I kind of wondered if Boehner was auditioning to be Donald Trump’s vice president. A Trump-Boehner ticket would really say the Washington cartel in all its force,” Cruz said.

Boehner occasionally provides a glimpse of his retirement activities, like posting a Facebook photo of himself mowing his lawn. The social media post was reminiscent of multiple occasions when his aides blasted out videos of the Speaker mowing his own lawn to burnish the son of a bartender’s “everyman” image. 

“My first cut of the year. My grass is perfect!!!” Boehner wrote.