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Posted at 5:07 PM ET, 02/16/2011

Is John Boehner doing a good job as speaker?

By Ezra Klein

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That was the topic of my segment last night with Rachel Maddow, and I've been thinking about it ever since. In the clip above, Maddow makes a detailed case that he's simply bad at his job. And she's got a lot of evidence: He's been rolled by the tea party again and again. He's had to break a number of his own rules. He's lost a number of key votes. He's made some serious verbal gaffes ("so be it."). He's used some funny numbers. Despite his promise to "disagree without being disagreeable," his Twitter feed is laughably partisan. He stuck something that looks a whole lot like an earmark in the spending bill. The House is a more chaotic, less predictable place under his leadership. Nancy Pelosi was clearly better at uniting her party and passing legislation than Boehner is.

And yet, Boehner is keeping some difficult promises. I went back and looked at the post I wrote after Boehner's speech opening the 112th Congress. "Many speakers before Boehner have entered the House promising more openness and cooperation and given up on those promises when they began to conflict with more action," I said. "And Boehner himself has not always been able to 'disagree without being disagreeable.' It's when the going gets tough that speakers turn hard. So we'll see."

Despite his setbacks, and the bad press they've meant for him, Boehner hasn't turned hard yet. The House is currently considering more than 400 amendments to the spending bill. Every one of them is posted online. Many of them are from Democrats. One of them just resulted in Boehner losing his earmark -- another example of his own party turning on him.

John Boehner is no Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi managed to pass cap-and-trade before most people realized it actually had a chance. Boehner can't even get his own earmark through. But this is the style of leadership he promised. More voices and more opportunities for participation -- even if that means less efficiency. "I offer a commitment," he said in his first speech. "Openness – once a tradition of this institution, but increasingly scarce in recent decades -- will be the new standard." He's not honored that commitment on every vote, and he could yet decide he's fed up with all this and go in a very different direction in the months to come. But for now, he's making some sacrifices, and taking some real hits, to live up to the standard he set for himself. I don't agree with John Boehner on much. But I respect him for that.

By Ezra Klein  | February 16, 2011; 5:07 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  | Tags:  Ezra Klein  
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Being open and being an effective leader are two different things, Ezra Klein.

Give us all a break please and leave the "dry" humor at home. We need real leadership in both chamber's of the Congress and in the last month or so, the one leading the House chamber is failing miserably.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | February 16, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

If you mean,"Is this guy an obstructionist?" ... If you mean is this guy a "single-minded, slightly right of Attila, the Hun?" ... I would say that ... you are right ! He is almost as good at it that job as
"Newt Ging-whatever" was ...
May they both Rest-In-Political-Peace .................

Posted by: loretoguy | February 16, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Betcha a lot of people in the House are missing Nancy being in charge right about now. :-)
At the same time, it will be interesting to see how Nancy leads the Democrats now that they are in the Minority.

Posted by: JERiv | February 16, 2011 5:50 PM | Report abuse

There is a song [The Script - For the First Time] about this 'econ recession' that is taking a bite from ALL POLITICIANS FRUIT:

She's all laid up in bed with a broken heart
While i'm drinking jack all alone in my local bar
And we don't know how we got into this mad situation
Only doing things out of frustration

Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
She needs me now but I can't seem to find a time
I've git a new job now in the umemploymentline
And we don't know we got into this mess it's a gods test
Someone hulp us cause we're doing our best

Trying to make it work but man these times are hard
But we're gunna start by drinking old cheap bottles of wine
Sit talking up all night
Saying things we haven't for a while, a while yeah
We're smiling but we're close to tears
Even after all these years
We just now got the feeling that we're meeting
For the first time

Posted by: rmorris391 | February 16, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

With the Democrats controlling the Senate and the Presidency, Boehner won't be "effective" in the same way as Pelosi. He won't get anything consequential passed into law, so his job is almost entirely about messaging for 2012 and pacifying the Tea Partiers.

Posted by: mschol17 | February 16, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

For better or worse, Boehner's fundamental incompetence is good for America, in that most of what he wants to do is bad, and he can't seem to get it done.
I'd like to give him credit for this being deliberate, but I'm really not so sure. Remember, filling all those seats with Teabaggers was not Boehner's idea.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | February 16, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

This is a good post by you, Ezra. We don't see a lot fairness in reporting these days when talking about ideological opponents.

Posted by: GopalSapparapu | February 16, 2011 6:11 PM | Report abuse

He's incompetent, he ought to ask Nancy how to get things done.

Posted by: calif-joe | February 16, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

A few thoughts:

1) Boehner talked a lot about making the House of Representatives more open and fair, but that's a pretty easy promise. Republicans don't control the Senate, or the White house. No one expects much legislation. So saying, "We're going to be fair about the few pieces of symbolic legislation which roll through this body" isn't much of a hurdle to pass. Yet he hasn't. (And who knows, maybe that earmark will pop back in when they finally get a compromise deal.)

2) Losing those key votes might actually help Boehner in his negotiations. "Mr. President, you may not like me. But if you think I'm crazy, just check out the people behind me!"

Posted by: AMP1 | February 16, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Boehner is a crying shame, but it isn't entirely because of his management style.

Yes, you would think that the GOP would have a budget plan in place by now. They've known for at least 9 months that they had a strong chance to capture the House. They've known for about 3 months that that chance was no longer hypothetically possible.

But the GOP is in an ideological bind.

On the one hand, you have the big business wing which helped to purchase the election. On the other you have the foot-soldiers who helped deliver votes. The two sides can agree on a lot, but there are still points of conflict.

Factor in the local interests and you have a real mess. The ideology is meeting reality.

No one could keep the GOP caucus together all of the time.

DeLay could in the past, in part because he controlled the flow of money, the legislative agenda, and he had support in both the White House and the Senate for his policies. Boehner has a lot less leverage.

All of this could be moot though if the rumors about him and his DC lobbyist "friend" turn out to be true. Even if he resigns his replacement will still have to deal with the same mess.

Posted by: JPRS | February 16, 2011 6:17 PM | Report abuse

As much as I often admire your analytical ability and clear writing, I think this is a perfect example of form over substance. I really could care less whether Boehner promised more "openness" on bills that gut the environment, provide endless giveaways to corporations, obliterate women's rights and all services to poor women....I could go on. What makes someone "great" and "effective" is their ability to face enduring and immediate challenges with true leadership, whether or not they will be re-elected and whether or not they remain in power. Boehner and his party are all about power. It's the substance of the promises, the substance of the rules, the substance of what they do, not the fact that they "process" that is critical to mine and all of our future and more importantly that of our children. This kind of pablum smacks of someone trying to maintain access and be cute, not real political analysis.

Jodi Jacobson

Posted by: jjacobson1 | February 16, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: analyst72 | February 16, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: hz9604 | February 16, 2011 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Journo-list Boy is at it again. Trying to create news rather than report it or give responsible commentary.

Posted by: hz9604 | February 16, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I saw Pelosi complaining about cuts to women and children. How many women and children could have been fed on her $100,000 bar tab on the flight to Copenhagen?

Posted by: hz9604 | February 16, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

How you lefties can say anything negative about Boehner, after the ditz Pelosi, is beyond rational thought.

Posted by: VirginiaLonghorn | February 16, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Gee Journolist boy - if you and Rachel decided then it must be true!!!

Posted by: hz9604 | February 16, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Boehner is by nature a minority opposition leader, a bomb thrower, hell yes. The problem that he faces is to develop a clear and effective legislative program that will give the economy a chance to fully recover and solve governmental fiscal problems. This is a tall order requiring a great leader. He has not shown an penchant for the "vision thing." To make matters worse he does not have control over the radical elements of his own party. As every day passes it appears that the tail is wagging the dog. Tears will only work for so long.

Posted by: sr31 | February 16, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Boehner is a politician, so he has just one goal: re-election, at any cost, ideally to a more powerful position. Actual content? Irrelevant. It's votes, campaign contributions, press exposure that count toward re-election. Anything else is incidental. He'll turn on a dime if he senses a wind shift. We have seen it happen already, and his Speakership is barely a month old. He is bought and paid for.

Posted by: frodot | February 16, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

You Righties need to stop getting mad at Klein and other's posting about your bumbling leader.

It's not Ezra's fault or our's that your chosen leader is a "drunk" and a stumbling Tea Party Patsy, who does not know how to govern the House Chamber.

Besides, his "so be it" casual response to job layoffs, while trying to hold onto a F35 backup plane engine that the Defense Dept., said was not needed several times makes Boehner look like a big bloated pompous Hypocrit and a fool.

Posted by: lcarter0311 | February 16, 2011 7:11 PM | Report abuse

He is doing a great job! Just by him being there I don't have to see Botox Nancy lying to the public every single day and trying to import her San Francisco beliefs on the rest of the country.

Posted by: twoeagle | February 16, 2011 7:14 PM | Report abuse

The man is a mid-Westerner from wroking class background; basically a lifetime pol w/o advanced degrees or serious experience outside of politics. He does not have the breath of knowledge and intellectual curiousity to fulfill his position. He is mean and cares nothing about the working class people today...and doesn't even know how much the world has changed since the Re-pugs took over with ReaGUN. He thinks "bookstaps" are still the path to success. He is clearly emotionally unstable. His only skill is pouting "talking points'. He is a disgrace to the office...and it is scary for him to be third in line to the presidency. God help the country if he were President.

Posted by: BarbarainPalmSprings | February 16, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Rachel has Boehner's number - inept.

Posted by: seasalt | February 16, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Where are the US jobs for US citizens, Comrade Boehner?

You got elected in November.

You could have pushed to create 500,000 US jobs each month.

But so far - ZILCH.

YOU'RE FIRED, slacker!

Posted by: WillSeattle | February 16, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

How you lefties can say anything negative about Boehner, after the ditz Pelosi, is beyond rational thought.

Posted by: VirginiaLonghorn | February 16, 2011 7:00 PM

At least Pelosi can pronounce her own name correctly.

Posted by: trambusto | February 16, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Faced with doing something about "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" Boehner has allowed his party to busy itself with trivia like anti abortion legislation, repealing Obama, and about Obama. He has no control over his own Party, has no idea about how to do anything but oppose Democrats. It worked when he was Minority Leader, but the Speaker of the House isn't about opposition, it is about getting on with the very necessary job of legislating.

John has never demonstrated one iota of ability to legislate, from his days as a back bencher through his leadership positions the last time the republicans held the majority in the House right up until today. He can't figure out what to do because the democrats won't propose anything he can oppose.

John is way out of his position of competence, and the drift will become more and more obvious.

Posted by: ceflynline | February 16, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

I like John Boehner.* I imagine that when you become the 3rd most important elected position, you would really rather think about what's good for the country, and not have to deal with all this BS. I assume he would just as soon be middle-of-the-road administrator of the Welfare State, and to try to whittle down the long-term debt in a reasonable manner. He is not a fool. He also appears to know that unfortunately for his ascendancy, the Republican ideology (Reaganomics) has intellectually imploded (not that he really cares perhaps, but he needs a usable and distinguishable rhetoric), and unfortunately this has happened at just the moment he has to wrangle a bunch of zany nincompoops a.k.a. the Tea Party.

*For the record, I also like Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | February 16, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Boehner is Barry's worst nightmare as the man has no ego and will actually listen to his caucus and ergo their voters, something that really couldn't be said about Ms. Rubberface ... given that it's February and you're already trying to write him off I say he's off to a good start ... keep tryin' though ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | February 17, 2011 12:05 AM | Report abuse

This is a trick question ...right???

Posted by: smclady1947 | February 17, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

John Boehner is part of the old guard and does not have the personality nor the leadership style required for the job of Speaker of the House. When he speaks no one listens. he is tedious and boring. Why our Party insist on continuing with these failures like John McCain, John Boehner etc is beyond me. The win of the House has been effectively defused by his lack of leadership and his constant criticism of the very people that made the republican majority possible. The Republican Party is imploding becasue of the in fighting and rejection of certain factions. The Tea party is hear to stay. They are what the 2010 elections were all about yet the Party continues to decry them. The way i see it now because of the rejection of the conservative movement Barrack Hussein Obama will be the next President. Boehner and other Party leaders will continue to divide the Party until it splits. Once that occurs the 2012 vote will be split and allow the Democrats not only to retain the White House but to regain the losses in the House and the Senate. Now that the Progressives have infiltrated the Republican party they will continue to put pressure on to cause the Party to split. We need to oust Boehner ASAP and replace him with a Tea Party candidate. We need someone with energy and charisma to lead the Party and put down the Progressive Liberal agenda. Boehner you not only are doing a bad job you are doing a HORRIBLE job.

Posted by: ihateliberalism | February 17, 2011 1:29 AM | Report abuse

John Boehner is the Democrats new best friend in the House.

Posted by: ihateliberalism | February 17, 2011 1:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a Boehner fan, but, it's not as if he doesn't know how government works. It appears that he just doesn't like how it HAS worked. All voices should be heard, and the Speaker's job should be to try to round up votes, but, NOT, to threaten and heavy-hand those who disagree with him. It may be messy, but, this is the way government should work--we elected these people on what they said that they would try to do, not to shut up and do whatever the Speaker tells them to do.

Posted by: coffic | February 17, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Would the commenters here prefer the antics of we have to pass the bill before we can know what is in it of Pelosi or the open debate of Boehner? I prefer the open debate.

Posted by: gfafblifr | February 17, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Too All anyone who can slow up or deflect anything that the bumbler Hussien Obama and the dumocrats wants to do is great withme even if it is just to slow it down and get it in the mud. The bumbler obama is the biggest mistake this country has ever made he is far worse than Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and FDR it seem when you look at history the dumocrats are only worried about enriching their own pockets. If you look at the history of the great depression FDR's plans extended the depression by about 6 years and it took Wworld War II to get us out of the depression, and if FDR would have stood up to Hitler WWII might have been prevented, but no he was just like Neville Chamberlin who believed he had achieved Peace In Our Time. And all he did was allow Hitler to continue his plans to conquer Europe. W can thank Hitler for Germanys loss during the Normandy invasions because the panzer corp up at calais could not be moved with out his approval, so when the allies invaded at Normandy the panzer divisions where left at Calais and did not move to stop the Normandy invasions. just read you old history books not the ones that Hussien Obama wants to change to make the history agree with his ideas.
I would ask all of you to do me a favor and when you see a service man or someone who served in the service to our country please thank him. Also remember we are all Americans and the last 4 letters if American are I CAN when we put our minds and power to any idea we can get it done.

Proud American but not happy with Hussien Obama
Thankful to our Veterans

Posted by: twomullens | February 17, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Boehner is smart enough to know that if you promise little then you can fulfill those promises. He has kept a fairly low profile which probably helps him a little. But, with that said, his promises before the 2010 election was jobs, jobs, jobs. After two month in the House not one jobs bill has even been presented. Instead they are focusing on health care repeal, abortion repeal, and cutting jobs from the middle class by reducing programs. Yes, even a gov't job is a JOB to someone. The American people (a quote he wears out) want him to work with Obama and get things done. The American people do not want gridlock or a shut down of the gov't. Step up to the plate, John.

Posted by: pgmichigan | February 17, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I rarely post to these blogs but I do read them. What seems very apparent is that the blog posters from the right have a hard time engaging in a rational dialogue about the pros and cons of Ezra's ideas. Instead, their posts are full of swear words, pejorative nicknames, and just plain nastiness. This kind of response does not convince me of their opinions - it does just the opposite. Ezra, thank you for providing clear commentary and honest food for thought, both here and on MSNBC.

Posted by: Minngin | February 17, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Minngin, isn't fascinating to see people who are so convinced they "know" what they are talking about make fools of themselves? I'm not sure how Ezra's post here could be interpreted as hostile, as some posters contend, esp. considering that the last lines of Ezra's post says, "But I respect him for that." I guess any criticism of conservatives AT ALL is a sign of how ideologically blinded we liberals are. Back at ya.

Posted by: nickthap | February 17, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

NO is the answer to the question: Is J Boehner doing a good job? Boehner is no leader and he proves this everyday. Real leaders would never say: SO BE IT to federal employees needing their jobs; or READ MY LIPS. THis man is a big crying joke. AMericans should email and/or call (202-225-6205) Boehner and respectfully inform him that we are NOT please with him in no manner. Boehner and his hypocritical Republicans are looking out for the wealthiest and riches companies; not the middle class and low income families. Tune into C-Span and see how deep Boehner is planning to cut the programs that ONLY affect middle class and low income families. But he has positive plans for the rich oil companies and corporations that outsource jobs. Also, you will find on C-Span how much better president Obama and Jacob Lew's budget plan is; such that the draft shows how to cut spending but keep us moving continously in a positive manner. Lew is the budget director we also had with the Clinton administration. Yes, the budget director (Lew) that handed Bush a surplus estimated to have been about $220 billion dollars and we all know what Bush the Republicans did with that surplus - they turned it into the deficit we are fighting to get out of. So, again NO Boehner should NOT be a leader, let alone the Speaker of our House of Representatives. We need to also ask him:WHERE ARE THE JOBS? In addition to that question, we need to ask BOehner why he is trying to repeal the federal healthcare reform but will NOT cancel his federally funded healthcare? It is called being a hypocrit and a liar.

Posted by: netstoy | February 17, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

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