Boehner’s climate speech is seen as one for the ages

House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) animated speech on climate change late last week has attracted praise from both Republicans and Democrats.

Boehner, known for his laid-back personality and constant shrugs, delivered a scathing critique of the Democrats’ climate bill that passed 219-212 on Friday. Some political observers on and off Capitol Hill say the speech could represent a significant change in Boehner’s leadership style.

Fifteen minutes into what most expected to be a two-minute closing argument against the bill, Boehner pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his coat pocket and flipped open the four-inch binder he had slammed on the lectern before him.

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For more than an hour, Boehner essentially went page by page through a 300-page Democratic amendment that had been filed at 3 a.m. on Friday — 16 hours before it went to a vote.

Democrats protested, but Boehner was allowed to finish his address. The speech, dubbed the “fili-Boehner,” has already been viewed more than 70,000 times on YouTube.

Conservative blogs immediately extolled Boehner, with some writing, “Boehner in 2012!”

The delivery of Boehner’s speech was what made it unique. The minority leader has lambasted countless Democratic bills on the House floor, but Friday’s speech was so energized that jokes quickly circulated on Capitol Hill that he had loaded up on cans of the energy drink Red Bull.

Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Boehner’s one-time opponent to be majority leader in 2006, labeled it the Ohio lawmaker’s “finest hour.”

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who voted against the bill, said, “If I were the average Joe listening to this at home I’d think, ‘That was a pretty good speech.’ ”

“I actually thoroughly enjoyed John Boehner’s speech,” said Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.). Wu backed the bill on Friday.

In his remarks, Boehner said, “It’s hard to say in the first six months of the new Congress that this could be the defining vote and the defining bill for this Congress, but I really, truly believe that this is the defining bill.”

Most importantly, Boehner — who has been overshadowed at times in his career by former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and President George W. Bush — united his GOP conference.

Even though eight Republicans defected to help Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pass the climate bill through the lower chamber, GOP officials say the vote will help them in the midterm elections. And it gave them something to cheer about.

After his speech, GOP members gave Boehner a prolonged standing ovation as he shook his fists in the air. At one point as they congratulated him, it appeared as though they were going to toss Boehner on their shoulders.

Conservatives in the Republican Conference who have been wary of Boehner said they were impressed by their leader’s performance. And for Republicans in the lower chamber who are used to losing on a regular basis, the speech had an added bonus: It appeared to frustrate Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Waxman, a master of needling Republicans when House Democrats were out of power from 1995-2006, complained to his California colleague, Ellen Tauscher (D), who presided over the debate.

Waxman suggested Boehner’s speech be cut off, and when it ended, Waxman asked Tauscher how long the scheduled “two-minute speech” actually lasted.

To the delight of Republicans, Tauscher responded, “The gentleman used the customary amount of time yielded to the minority leader.”

Some Democrats, including Waxman, dismissed Boehner’s speech as a stunt and indicative of how Republicans are the “Party of No.”

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Even though longtime colleagues say that Boehner hasn’t changed, they note that the leader has to balance the interests of his conference with being respectful of the House as an institution.

And Friday’s performance was a chance for Boehner to do just that.

“I see this as public recognition of his style and substance of his leadership, being exactly where the conference wants and needs to be right now,” said longtime Boehner confidant Bruce Gates, a lobbyist for Altria Client Services Co.

As Boehner left the Capitol on Friday night, there was a spring in his step.

Asked whether he would hold court again, Boehner gave his usual shrug. Translation: “I don’t know.”

He then told The Hill that “people deserved to know what was in this pile of s--t.”

That quotation triggered debate on the cable news shows over the weekend, a primary goal of the party in the minority.

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