What kind of speaker will John Boehner be?
At this point, I'd say it's extremely likely that Republicans will win the House, and if they do that, it's similarly likely that John Boehner will become speaker. So what sort of speaker will he be? Paul Kane's interview with the Ohio Republican offers some clues. First, he's not the arm-twister that Nancy Pelosi is, or that Tom DeLay was:
His hands-off style has its critics among Republicans. Some believe he isn't a forceful enough presence to lead lawmakers where they are reluctant to go. In late September 2008, Boehner headed the effort to secure votes to pass the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, something the Bush administration was pushing.
Privately, he told his colleagues that the legislation was a "crap sandwich," but they had to support it or the entire financial sector would implode. On Sept. 29, 2008, only a third of the GOP conference -- 65 Republicans -- supported Boehner as the legislation went down and the stock markets plummeted nearly 800 points.
Inside his office an hour later, Boehner, taking long drags on his ever-present Camel cigarettes (he is exempted from the Capitol's smoking ban while in his office), explained that it was almost impossible to pull off the vote. He stuttered over the words "break arms," saying it just wasn't something he could do.
Four days later, when the House voted again and approved the measure, Boehner couldn't get his closest friends, such as Latham and Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), to back the legislation.
Perhaps more to the point, he doesn't want to be remembered or seen as an arm-twister. He'd like to be seen as the leader who returned comity to the House of Representatives:
He insists he will be a very different kind of politician if the GOP wins Congress and he is elected speaker. He'll help bring the animosity between the two sides under control, he says, by allowing Democrats greater freedom to have their say on the floor of the House and letting them bring their proposals to a vote.
As it is now, the party in power routinely uses rules and procedural tricks to prevent the minority from offering bills and amendments. In retaliation, members of the minority use what few tools they have to obstruct the majority.
That's how it has been ever since the combative Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), once a mentor to Boehner, became House speaker in 1994, the last time the GOP retook Congress from the Democrats. After Gingrich, Republican leader Tom DeLay, known as the "Hammer," took this punitive style of leadership to the next level. And the current Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), has advanced a similar zero-sum approach to politics.
"A lot of scar tissue has been built up on both sides of the aisle," said Boehner, who says he would create an atmosphere in which Democrats wouldn't have to resort to the kind of tactics he has used against them.
"If there's a more open process, and members are allowed to participate, guess what? It lets the steam out of the place," he said in a speech last month at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
I don't look back at the last two years and think of Boehner as a real stickler for civility and bipartisanship, and it's hard to believe that he'll have an easier time of it when he's the only Republican with the power to block President Obama's initiatives and when his caucus is full of fire-breathing freshmen, but I guess we'll see.
Photo credit: By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post
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