How House Speaker Boehner Survived A Roller-Coaster Year

Dec 25, 2013
Originally published on December 25, 2013 5:04 pm

House Speaker John Boehner ends 2013 after quite a roller-coaster ride. The Ohio Republican's year was defined by a rocky relationship with the Tea Party wing of the GOP.

The year started for Boehner with an attempt to strip him of his speakership — and ended with some of the same people who had tried to oust him singing his praises.

In January, a vote that should have been routine turned suspenseful as a number of Tea Party-allied Republicans voted against Boehner or didn't vote at all.

But in the end, Boehner survived and was re-elected speaker of the House for the 113th Congress. Given the year he was about to have, one could ask if that was much of a victory at all.

This was just the first of many times over the year that House Republicans openly revolted against Boehner and the rest of the leadership team, delivering embarrassing defeats and forcing planned votes to be canceled.

It all came to a head in the days leading up to the government shutdown. In mid-September, after GOP hardliners forced him to scrap a plan that would have avoided a shutdown, Boehner pointed to what he called the Republican's "diverse caucus."

"Whenever we're trying to put together a plan, we've got 233 members, all of whom have their own plan," he said. "It's tough to get them on the same track. We got there."

"There" referred to going along with what the Tea Party wing of his party, and the outside groups that egged them on, wanted: A big old fight on the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner supporters argued that basic political math forced this course that led to a shutdown. And for a change, all those Tea Party critics who had been undermining him all year supported the speaker.

Critical Democrats, on the other hand, argued that he was just trying to save his speakership.

On the Senate floor, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said he felt sorry for Boehner: "And now Speaker Boehner, who has not been strong enough, frankly, to stand up to the Tea Party, realizes he's in a real dilemma. They want to shut the government down and he knows that the American people don't want that."

Sixteen days after it started, the shutdown ended with a whimper. The deal that ended the shutdown temporarily funded the government with no Obamacare strings attached. It was essentially what Boehner wanted from the start.

And some of the very same people who had attempted to take away the speaker's gavel were now praising his performance. Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said in October, "No one blames him. You know my background with the speaker. I don't think he could have done this any better than he did."

Rep. Raul Labrador, a Tea Party Republican from Idaho, says Boehner was in good standing with the conservatives because he listened to what his members wanted — and also that there was no one waiting in the wings to replace him.

"I think the speaker has nothing to be worried about," Labrador said. "I don't know why anybody wants that job."

The shutdown led to a conference committee, which led to a budget deal in mid-December. But the same outside groups that had been giving Boehner trouble all year came out strongly against the deal.

And, it seems, Boehner had had enough.

"There just comes to the point when some people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you're criticizing, it undermines your credibility," Boehner said earlier this month.

And he didn't stop there — making it clear he hadn't gotten over the ill-fated shutdown strategy.

"Most of you know. My members know that wasn't exactly the strategy I had in mind," he said. "But if you'll recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the at one of these groups stood up and said, 'Well, we never really thought it would work.' Are you kidding me?"

Asked to reflect on the year, Boehner says there were a lot of lessons learned.

"And I actually do feel like we're in a better place," he added.

Then he turned to a line he's clearly delivered many times on the stump: that his early years taught him everything he needs to know about being speaker of the House.

Boehner grew up with 11 siblings and worked in his dad's bar. So, he says, he can figure out how to get things done as a family — and how to deal with characters.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. Earlier this week we heard about the challenges President Obama has faced in 2013. Now another politician who's had quite the roller coaster ride: House Speaker John Boehner started the year facing an attempt to strip him of his speakership. The year ends with some of the same people who had tried to oust him singing his praises.

As NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith reports, Boehner's year was defined by his rocky relationship with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE VOTE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yo-ho.

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR: Eric Cantor.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Cantor.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This is the sound of an attempted coup on John Boehner's speakership.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE VOTE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Huelskamp.

KEITH: A vote that should have been routine turned to suspense as a number of Tea Party allied Republicans voted against Boehner, or didn't vote at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE VOTE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Jordan of Ohio.

KEITH: But in the end, Boehner survived.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE VOTE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Therefore, the Honorable John A. Boehner of the state of Ohio, having received the majority of the votes cast, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives for the 113th Congress.

KEITH: Though given the year he was about to have, one could ask if being re-elected as speaker was much of a victory at all. This was just the first of many times over the year that House Republicans openly revolted against Boehner and the rest of the leadership team, delivering embarrassing defeats and forcing planned votes to be cancelled. It all came to a head in the days leading up to the government shutdown.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, we've got a diverse caucus.

KEITH: This was Boehner in mid-September after GOP hardliners forced him to scrap a plan that would have avoided a shutdown.

BOEHNER: Whenever we're trying to put together a plan, we've got 233 members, all of whom have their own plan. It's tough to get them on the same track. We got there.

KEITH: There was going along with what the Tea Party wing of his party and the outside groups that egged them on wanted - a big old fight on Obamacare. Boehner supporters argued basic political math forced this course that led to a shutdown. And for a change, all those Tea Party critics who had been undermining him all year supported the speaker.

Critical Democrats argued he was just trying to save his speakership. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor he felt sorry for Boehner.

REPRESENTATIVE CHUCK SCHUMER: And now Speaker Boehner, who has not been able - not been strong enough, frankly, to stand up to the Tea Party, realizes he's in a real dilemma. They want to shut the government down and he knows that the American people don't want that.

KEITH: Sixteen days after it started, the shutdown ended with a whimper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "BILL CUNNINGHAM SHOW")

BILL CUNNINGHAM: Welcome to "The Bill Cunningham Show." John, how are you?

BOEHNER: Hey, Bill. I'm doing good.

CUNNINGHAM: Are you sure you're doing good?

BOEHNER: Yeah, I am doing good.

SCHUMER: Tell me why you're doing good because...

BOEHNER: Well, listen. We've been locked in a fight over here trying to bring government down to size. Trying to do our best to stop Obamacare. And we fought the good fight. We just didn't win.

KEITH: The deal that ended the shutdown temporarily funded the government with no Obamacare strings attached. It was essentially what Boehner wanted from the start. And some of the very same people who had attempted to take away his gavel were now praising his performance. Mick Mulvaney is a South Carolina Republican.

REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: No one blames him. You know my background with the Speaker. I don't think he could have done this any better than he did.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRADOR: I think the speaker has nothing to be worried about.

KEITH: Raul Labrador is a Tea Party Republican from Idaho. He said Boehner was in good standing with the conservatives because he listened to what his members wanted. And also there was no one waiting in the wings to replace him.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRARDOR: I don't know why anybody wants that job.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: The shutdown led to a conference committee, which led to a budget deal in mid-December. But the same outside groups that had been giving Boehner trouble all year came out strongly against the deal. And it seems Boehner had had enough.

BOEHNER: There just comes to the point where some people step over the line. You know, when you criticize something and you have no idea what you're criticizing, it undermines your credibility.

KEITH: But he didn't stop there, making it clear he hadn't gotten over the ill-fated shutdown strategy.

LABRARDOR: Most of you know, my members know, that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you'll recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said, well, we never really thought it would work. Are you kidding me?

KEITH: Asked to reflect on his roller coaster year, Boehner said there were a lot of lessons learned.

BOEHNER: And I actually do feel like we're in a better place.

KEITH: Then he turned to a line he's clearly delivered many times on the stump, saying his early years taught him everything he needs to know about being speaker of the House. He grew up with 11 siblings and worked in his dad's bar. So he says he can figure out how to get things done as a family and how to deal with characters. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.