Speaker Boehner on the cliff edge

Greg Nash

John Boehner is taking the biggest risk of his political career. [WATCH VIDEO]


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By embracing the Tea Party’s strategy aimed at thwarting ObamaCare, Boehner (R-Ohio) is betting he can win the public relations battle against President Obama’s bully pulpit. 

It is a huge gamble; the political fallout from it could be felt for years to come.

His recent maneuvers on funding the government represent a significant shift in his stewardship of the House.

For years, Boehner has been fighting Tea Party lawmakers within his GOP conference. His previous decisions on the fiscal cliff, Hurricane Sandy relief and the farm bill were all panned by the right. Defections piled up, and Boehner’s Speakership was weakened significantly.

The Tea Party has consistently shown it does not want to make deals with Democrats. It wants to fight.

As the manager of the rambunctious House Republicans, Boehner has had to adjust.

Asked what he has done differently in recent days, a well-placed source said the Speaker and his deputies spent more time talking with individual members.

The one-on-one meetings have led to far more unity between Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

In his leadership posts before the Tea Party emerged, Boehner said the key to governing was “putting points on the board.”

This summer he said, “We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We should be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

He faced a choice this weekend in the government shutdown debate between caving in to the Democratic-led Senate, or doubling down on efforts to derail ObamaCare.

He chose the latter. But a freshman senator eyeing a 2016 White House bid had a lot to do with that.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wields enormous power in both chambers. He pushed Boehner and the party establishment to go to the brink to eliminate ObamaCare. That is something Republicans did not do in 2011, months after their historic electoral gains in the mid-term elections.

Tea Party Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a constant thorn in Boehner’s side, is now applauding the Speaker.

Asked on Fox News why he has previously ripped Boehner, Gohmert responded, “We went two years without keeping our promises.”

Some House Republicans contend that if there is a government shutdown, Cruz will be blamed. Others say that is wishful thinking.

Democrats are stunned at what they describe as Republican intransigence, noting that it was their party, not the GOP, that retained the White House and picked up House and Senate seats last year.

Days after the election, Boehner himself called ObamaCare “the law of the land.”

Polls suggest the public will blame the GOP, not the president, if the government shutters. Still, while congressional ratings are near historic lows, so are Obama’s approval ratings.

It’s unclear what the Senate’s next move will be but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has made it clear his chamber will reject the government funding bill that the House passed Saturday night.

There will be more jockeying Monday between the House and Senate and the chances of a shutdown are high.

Democrats say the House GOP’s strategy is suicidal, and some acknowledge it could help their own party in the 2014 midterm elections.

That is what is so striking about Boehner’s charge. Democrats are unlikely to win the House next year, but a government shutdown puts the majority in more jeopardy than it had been, some analysts suggest.

A source close to Boehner said, “The Speaker has been tested in the toughest of times and this is no different. He is steady and unflappable. He is going to listen to the members, and work to do the right thing on their behalf, and on behalf of the country.”

There is plenty of speculation that this will be Boehner’s last Congress. He survived a coup attempt at the beginning of this year, and has scars from his fiscal battles with the Obama White House.

His aides deny that he already has one foot out the door.

His exit strategy, whether it goes into action sooner or later, could influence his handling of the debt-limit clash and immigration reform, which has met strong resistance from powerful forces in the GOP.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Obama and Boehner is strained. They rarely talk to one another.

The president, who likes to keep Congress at arm’s length, has said repeatedly that he will not horse trade over paying the nation’s bills. Boehner responded that “it just doesn’t work that way.”

With the stakes so high, Boehner will try to avoid missteps that then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) made during the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996.

Fortunately for the GOP, Boehner is no Gingrich, who was widely perceived as a whiny foe of President Bill Clinton.

Still, Obama thrives when he has a boogeyman. And the president now has several: Boehner, Cruz, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), or all three.

At some point, the Speaker will have to strike a deal to address America’s huge fiscal problems. There will be GOP critics of any such agreement.

Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) told The Hill that “if you let 25 members or even 35 members of your caucus hold up Republicans and Democrats, you’re never going to get out of it because their demands are unreasonable and outlandish.”

Davis observed that Boehner is now “trying to please everybody” in the House GOP.

Ultimately, Davis said, Boehner “just needs a majority of his conference to move ahead.”

Throughout his career, Boehner has shown he is a survivor. He was bounced from his leadership post after the 1998 elections.

But he worked his way back up the GOP hierarchy as a committee chairman. In 2006, he won a hard-fought contest for majority leader with Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has since moved to the Senate.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) recently told The Hill, “You never count [Boehner] out ... he has shown that he is a comeback kid.”