John Boehner Not Sure How Long He’ll Be Speaker
After spending some two decades working his way through the House Republican seniority system and into leadership, and suffering a setback in the late 90s when he ended up being the sacrificial lamb after failed attempt to oust Newt Gingrich as Speaker himself, John Boehner finally seemed to achieve everything he’d been working for in 2010 when Republicans captured the House of Representatives and he was elected Speaker. As it has turned out, though, things haven’t gone exactly as planned. Trying to manage the House GOP Caucus has proven to be far more difficult than he perhaps anticipated thanks largely to the influence of outside groups connected to the Tea Party. That same caucus has also forced Boehner to take positions in negotiations with the Senate and the White House that have made showdowns far more common and, in October, led to a government shutdown that Boehner himself had said was a bad idea. Along the way, he’s faced frequent threats from the right to his very position and, while none of these purported coup attempts have amounted to anything, they have nonetheless served to undermine his ability to lead the caucus.
Now, Boehner is saying that while he’s expecting to be Speaker when the House reconvenes in January after the midterms, he’s not sure how long that’s going to last:
SAN ANTONIO — John Boehner says he fully expects to be speaker of the House after the next election.
But whether he serves a whole term is another question.
The Ohio Republican, speaking to a luncheon here sponsored by a group of local chambers of commerce, said he can’t “predict what’s going to happen” and stopped short of fully committing to serving another full two-year term.
“Listen, I’m going to be 65 years old in November,” Boehner said. “I never thought I’d live to be 60. So I’m living on borrowed time.”
It’s extraordinarily rare for Boehner to sit down for an open-ended, live interview, but he did so here with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, a mainstay of the Lone Star State’s journalism scene. He touched on issues ranging from immigration to Benghazi to his quiet campaign to persuade Jeb Bush to run for president.
The interview came less than six months before Election Day, when Republicans are expected to keep — if not expand — their majority in the House and potentially wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.
But Boehner’s noncommittal response about his future will reverberate from here all the way back to Capitol Hill and K Street. His future has been a topic of constant chatter among political types. Even people inside his orbit privately wonder why the Ohio Republican would want to serve another term wielding the speaker’s gavel, given the tumultuous political climate in Washington. Last week, Boehner beat back two primary opponents to ensure his House reelection.
Uncertainty about Boehner’s future is mostly due to dissent within the House Republican ranks. A small — but somewhat vocal — pocket of conservatives is frustrated with Boehner’s leadership. The group is small and unlikely to cause Boehner anything but heartburn.
“I’m up for reelection, and I expect to be speaker, and this issuecomes up from time to time, probably more often than I’d like. I have a very good relationship with my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle,” Boehner said. “And even in my own party, even with some people who we have disagreements [with] almost every day, I have a good relationship with them as well. It’s open, it’s honest, and it’s straightforward. So I look forward to it.”
It’s difficult to know how much of this is just Boehner just letting off some steam, which he’s been known to do in public before, but it’s inevitably going to lead to a lot of talk an speculation on Capitol Hill. There was already speculation that Boehner might retire after the government shutdown fiasco, but that was mostly put to rest when he formally announced that he was running for re-election. At the same time, though, people on the right openly talk about challenging Beohner again in the leadership elections that will take place after the November elections, and there have been several GOP primary candidates who have run promising that they would not vote for him for Speaker (to my knowledge none of those candidates has actually won a primary).
The complaints against Boehner are the same that they have always been. He’s too moderate, they say, too willing to reach deals with Democrats rather than pushing the GOP agenda, and not willing to take on the President. The fact that, as Speaker, Boehner has largely towed the Tea Party line in negotiations over the debt ceiling and spending, pursued a legislative agenda that has pushed Tea Party priorities such as repealing the Affordable Care Act even though such House bills obviously had no chance in the Senate, and let the shutdown strategy go forward even though he clearly knew that it was political suicide for the GOP seems to have escaped them entirely. Given all of that, it’s easy to see why Boehner might just be frustrated enough to give up on the whole thing and retire. Of course, at that point, the Tea Party would find itself having to deal with Eric Cantor or Kevin McCarthy, who are the No.2 or No.3 in the leadership, if Boehner isn’t Speaker, and neither one of them is likely to be any more pleasing to the hard right of the GOP.
No doubt, one can find several things to complain about when it comes to Boehner’s tenure as Speaker, but it strikes me that he’s done a fine job for the most part. If he has one flaw, it is the manner in which he has given what strikes me as undue deference to the Tea Party caucus of the GOP and to outside groups but, to some degree, that has been a reflection of the political reality of the challenge that the Tea Party poses to mainstream conservative Republicans who might dare to defy it. Indeed, more than once it has been noted that the main reason for the positions that Boehner has taken as Speaker in negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats can be found in the concern that many members of the House GOP Caucus have in facing a Tea Party challenge in primaries. Because of that, many of them have been reluctant, at least up until now, to openly defy groups like FreedomWorks on votes that are considered crucial. In the end, Boehner can only walk into negotiations with a position that he knows will make it through his caucus, even if he knows at the start that the final result of those negotiations will end up being far less than what the Tea Party wants. Boehner played the hands he was dealt, the fact that they have been crappy hands is mostly not his fault.