Man of the House

3 years ago ccwa 0

182120982_17443253With midterm elections around the corner and the battle for the Senate dominating the headlines, few in the media are paying much attention to the House of Representatives. And who can blame them? Republicans are virtually assured of an increase in their already solid majority and the House leadership – other than a rather shocking primary loss by former Majority Leader Eric Cantor – seems fairly secure. Years of intraparty battles within the G.O.P. appear to have finally subsided to a manageable level and Republicans are poised to seize the initiative if the Senate changes hands. All in all, it looks like business as usual in the House.

At the head of it all is Speaker of the House John Boehner. Few politicians have taken as much flak from both the left and right – depending on who you ask, he may be a heartless conservative elitist or a spineless Republican-in-name-only – as Speaker Boehner and been able to hold on to power. The Ohio Republican needs to lead the G.O.P. in an increasingly partisan and divided Congress. Not only that, but the Tea Party wave that he rode to his gavel has turned into a source of frustration and often outright hostility as Speaker Boehner, a man made wise through years of experience, has been forced to herd conservative firebrands to manageable positions. Now, after over twenty years in Congress and many predicting that he may step down after the next term, the media is still trying to figure out the Speaker’s future plans and whether or not his legacy will be one of success.

Only Speaker Boehner and his family could speak to his personal plans, and he’s keeping fairly quiet on that question. The only hints he’s dropped have come in the form of denying ambition for the presidency, notably telling Jay Leno, “I like to play golf, I like to cut my own grass…drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. And I’m not giving that up to be the President of the United States.” Having attained the pinnacle of legislative power and becoming one of the most influential men in D.C., the Speaker is content without seeking the highest office in the land. As far as his future in Congress is concerned, Speaker Boehner faces the choice of retiring in 2016 or sticking around for another few terms. If he decides to stay, he likely will have little real trouble keeping the Speakership, assuming Republicans retain control of the House. Most of the ultra-right representatives who have posed a threat in the past have either been mollified or silenced; though he is more moderate than some, it’s difficult to paint the Speaker as anything but a solid conservative – something his longshot primary opponent J.D. Winteregg learned the hard way – and most members of the Republican caucus stand with him. If Republicans take the Senate in November, it would allow the party an opportunity to present President Obama with a unified legislature and give them a much stronger position at the negotiating table. On the other hand, Speaker Boehner has been in elected office for a long time. His years at the rostrum haven’t been easy: Congress since 2011 has been characterized by extreme partisanship, intra-party warfare, and political brinksmanship. Few would covet such a stressful position.

Speculation, while entertaining, is rarely a fruitful exercise in politics. A more worthwhile discussion should be held over whether or not Speaker Boehner will leave behind a legacy of success or failure. There have been numerous reasons to question the Ohio Republican’s effectiveness – perhaps most notably that the past two Congresses have been the least productive in our nation’s history. In many ways, this is due to the rise of the uncompromisingly conservative Tea Party, a group that rarely pays heed to the advice of long-time politicians when it comes to political accommodation or strategy, instead favoring a “my way or the highway” approach. In a time of divided government, with the two houses of Congress being held by opposing parties, the legislative process relies on both sides being amenable to compromise. With the Tea Party controlling a significant portion of his caucus, the Speaker, once considered something of an anti-establishment figure himself with the “Gang of Seven”, is put in the unenviable position of being forced to negotiate legislation with much less room for bargaining.

Speaker Boehner, while steadily advancing his own beliefs, has in fact demonstrated a remarkable – at least in this day and age – willingness to work together with his colleagues across the aisle in moments of crisis. He has engaged in debt-ceiling brinkmanship to further the Republican cause and oversaw the first government shutdown in over a decade, but the Speaker also has shown true political courage in leading the push to reopen the government against the demands of the far-right members of his caucus, even breaking with tradition to cast a vote himself. The Speaker has also been unafraid to criticize the more intransigent conservative groups that pushed the government to a shutdown, going so far as to say they’ve “lost all credibility” for going through with the obviously futile attempt to eliminate the Affordable Care Act – an accusation that didn’t do much to help his approval within the G.O.P. caucus. Time and time again in the House, he has refused to cave to the more hardline Republicans, instead favoring approaches that couple solid conservative values with the ability to create meaningful, workable legislation. Throughout his career, both as a representative and leader of the House, Speaker Boehner has demonstrated that being a strong Republican does not mean sacrificing the good of the country for your ideology.

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by Adam Pohlabel

(photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)