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John Boehner Not Sure How Long He’ll Be Speaker

John-Boehner

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.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Most. Unproductive. Speaker. Ever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  2. CB says:

    Speaker Cantor? Great…

    Can they just fast track Gohmert into the Speaker position and be done with it already?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Speaking of profiles in courage – he stuck around long enough to authorize another sham Benghazi Hearing.

    Seriously, as @C. Clavin: said,

    Most. Unproductive. Speaker. Ever.

    Well, certainly the worst I can think of in the past 25 to 30 years, and that’s even if you account for the fact that he’s dealing with intractable people who have no interest in governing effectively.

    If he really had a conscience, he would have stepped down and let Cantor try to manage those guys. But then again, how much could we have expected from a guy who, back in the early 1990s, was seen passing out Tobacco Lobby checks to his colleagues on the floor of The House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  4. Mu says:

    We should just make Steve King speaker, and Peter King his second. We’d probably return to the fold of the motherland shortly after.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  5. stonetools says:

    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.

    Nancy Pelosi, then, must be one of the greatest speakers in the history of the US Congress, right?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  6. @CB: Assuming Cantor wins his primary, his designated choice for Chairman of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee lost in a convention the other day and he’s facing a primary challenging in June.

    Even if he survives this year, he might not in 2016 if the Committee decides to hold a convention instead of a primary to nominate the Republican candidate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Boehner played the hands he was dealt, the fact that they have been crappy hands is mostly not his fault.

    You know…I think this is total BS.
    First, Boehner rode the Tea Baggers to the Speakership.
    Second, it’s just a cop-out.
    Obama has been dealt a reflexively opposed Republican party…a party that won’t even vote for the very things it actually supports. And yet he has an incredibly productive Presidency.
    It’s BS to just throw up your hands and say I give up.
    But it does explain why Doug is a Yankees fan.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

  8. dennis says:

    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.

    Can someone explain to me just what this has to do with governing and advancing the country? We should be pushing to the stars; instead, we’re regressing back to some Edward Longshanks-type post-medieval s***. Enough is enough with these people.

    All they talk about is how they’ve lost the country and how minorities (especially Black folk) are entitled moochers of the “system.” Well, if these past couple years haven’t disclosed who the REAL entitled moochers are, then we’re simply not paying attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  9. Tillman says:

    Oh I feel for Boehner. He made a deal with the crazy politico devil and thought he could manage.

    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.

    Twelve-dimensional chess here. He’s trying to discredit them. Note how many Tea Partiers are actually winning primaries. Hell, I tried to spoil for the Tea Party candidate for Senate here and he still lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. C. Clavin says:

    Butters was censured for not being Conservative enough:

    The censure document against Graham included more than two dozen points, such as Graham supporting President Barack Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court and also working with Democrats, according to the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina.

    So what Doug should have said is not that Boehner has been dealt band hands…but that the entire Republican party has come off the rails. Working across the aisle is now grounds for censure? Seriously?
    Still…the fault for Boehner’s impotence is his own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  11. I never thought I’d live to be 60.

    Does he have some sort of medical condition? Why did he think he’d die that young?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Cigarettes.
    And toxic tanning chemicals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Those tears you see running down my face are crocodile tears… Really Doug, starting the day after Obama’s inauguration, he and the rest of the GOP fed the Tea-party all the red meat they wanted and then it came back to bite them in the a$$ and it’s not their fault? He’s just playing the hand he got dealt? Really? All those extremist positions they took and thundered on and on about, railing about how Obama was destroying the country, how he was a MarxistFascistSocialistAnti-ColonialKenyanUsurper turning the White House black, just exactly what was all that?

    Looked, sounded, and smelled an awful lot like they were trying to rig the game by stacking the deck to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    @C. Clavin: And don’t forget the booze. It amazes me that I made it to 68.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. CSK says:

    Ah, well. Boehner may be out of a job sooner than he thinks. An outfit calling itself “Operation American Spring” has plans to descend on Washington, D.C. this Friday and oust Boehner, McConnell, Holder, Pelosi, Reid, and Obama from office. Then these traitorous miscreants will be tried by a tribunal of people like Ted Cruz , Jim DeMint, and Ben Carson. (NOT DeMint, Cruz, and Carson, it should be noted–people similar to them.) The overseers of Operation American Spring claim to have already mobilized a million militia members for this event, and anticipate a crowd of 10-30 million “revolutionary patriots” to show up for it. Sponsored by Tea Party Nation.

    I swear I did not make this up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Grewgills says:

    @CSK:
    I guess that‘s what happens when they lose in the primaries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. CSK says:

    @Grewgills:

    This event has been in the planning stages for months, apparently. Since last December, anyway. I’m trying to visualize it: 500 sad sacks in camouflage showing up on The Mall reciting lines from Braveheart, the way they did Chez Bundy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Mr. Prosser says:

    @CSK: @CSK: This is obviously a false flag plot dreamed up by the Kenyan and his minions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. MarkedMan says:

    It’s actually a relief that these guys are so out of touch that they are publicly trumpeting numbers like 10M. Because any day now I’m expecting a real shoot out in the capital or some state capital by someone with a bit more organizational capability. Because for those of us old enough to remember, we are in a virtual replay of the environment that spawned Timothy McVeigh, complete with Republican members of Congress giving aid and comfort to deranged militia whacko’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0