Boehner ascent tied to Contract With America

The lawmaker, then in his second term, crafted parts of the seminal 10-point policy memo that would become synonymous with the Republican Revolution of 1994.

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Boehner was part of a small group of reform-minded Republicans who had been advising Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Boehner, the son of a tavern owner, was subsequently elected to be GOP conference chairman after the 1994 elections.

Taking on the fourth-ranking GOP position in the House was a far cry from where Boehner started his congressional career: fighting for causes unpopular within the party establishment.

As a freshman in 1991 and 1992, the well-tanned lawmaker highlighted what eventually would become known as the House banking scandal, wherein some members were allowed to overdraw their checking accounts without penalty.

Boehner became associated with a band of fresh-faced Republican reformers known as the Gang of Seven, which included former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former Rep. John Doolittle (Calif.) and former Rep. Jim Nussle (Iowa).

Boehner was a casualty of the 1998 bloodletting among House Republicans, after an intra-party attempt to oust then-Speaker Gingrich backfired and Democrats — surprisingly — picked up seats in the lower chamber.

“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Boehner said in an interview with The Hill. “But I never took it personally. I walked down the hall after they [told me I lost] and said [to myself], ‘This is a blessing in disguise.’ ”

It took Boehner eight years to work his way back up the leadership ladder.

Boehner made a successful play in 2001 to become chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, as it was then known.

Boehner says he took “what used to be a backwater committee and put it out there as a committee where people got along, got things done. I let people talk, respected their views, let them disagree but not be disagreeable. It was a remarkable experience.”

During that time, he had to manage some major legislation — starting with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President George W. Bush’s landmark education measure.
Centrist GOP Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) attributes Boehner’s political comeback to his ability to bring together Republicans and Democrats.

“I think it was his work as the chairman [that] made a big difference. He worked with the administration on NCLB, and he showed an ability to pull together Republicans and Democrats on legislation and I think that was a major factor in allowing him to go back to the top,” Castle said.

After Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was indicted, Boehner jumped into the race to replace him as majority leader.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) — who was serving as the majority whip and interim majority leader — was the front-runner.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Boehner stood up in front of his colleagues and vowed to take on earmark and lobbying reform. While curbing earmarks was not popular among appropriators, some Republican members wanted a clean break from DeLay, who had played a leading role in Blunt’s rise in leadership.

Blunt fell short of winning enough votes on the first ballot, and momentum swung to Boehner, who won on the second ballot, 122-109.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) said Boehner has earned respect for going against the grain: “He’s taken some unpopular positions from time to time … and whether you agree or disagree with him, you have to respect him for doing that.”

Boehner says that “in order to win a leadership election, you have to get along with people, you have to be yourself, be honest and be able to lead.”

Boehner easily became minority leader after the 2006 elections, following former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) retirement.

There were many whispers before the 2008 elections that Boehner would lose his leadership perch after another Democratic wave hit the GOP. While Democrats picked up another two dozen seats, the wave was not as big as some political analysts had predicted.

Boehner moved quickly after the elections to reach out to members of his GOP conference. Weeks later, he defied predictions of his demise by easily being reelected minority leader.

With the next presidential election three years away and almost no hope of winning the Senate next year, Republican strategists say their best shot for major gains lies in the House.

Boehner has long had his eyes on becoming Speaker. Republicans are expected to pick up seats next year, though it is unlikely they can take back control of the lower chamber in 2010.

But for the first time in years, the wind is at the GOP’s back — and the battle-scarred Boehner is leading the charge.