A Regular Guy With A Big Job: The Legacy Of Speaker Boehner

Sep 25, 2015
Originally published on September 25, 2015 5:27 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

John Boehner described himself this afternoon as a regular guy with a big job. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor with a look at the career of a bartender's son from Ohio.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: When John Boehner was elected to Congress in 1990, he was a rebel. He was one of the so-called Gang of Seven, a group of young Republicans who called attention to abuses in the bank that served House members. Here he is at a 1992 news conference.

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JOHN BOEHNER: This institution is under indictment. We have an opportunity this week to come clean, to make a step forward, to increase our credibility with the American people, and we ought to do that.

NAYLOR: Two years later, Boehner found himself part of the House's first Republican majority in four decades. He rose up in party ranks, but he was then ousted from leadership after taking part in an attempted coup against then-speaker Newt Gingrich. Boehner eventually became chairman of the Education Committee and got a reputation as a bipartisan dealmaker. He forged a partnership with Democratic senator Ted Kennedy and helped get No Child Left Behind legislation passed. In 2010, Republicans returned to the majority with the help of Tea-Party-backed members, and Boehner was elected speaker.

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BOEHNER: The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories to just how temporary the privilege of serving is.

NAYLOR: But from the start of his speakership, Boehner had trouble managing his restive caucus. The new, even more conservative members fought Boehner over spending and raising the debt limit. A 2013 impasse led to a government shutdown. They opposed immigration reform, driving Boehner to mock them in an appearance in his district last year.

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BOEHNER: Here's the attitude.

(LAUGHTER)

BOEHNER: Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard. You should hear them.

(LAUGHTER)

NAYLOR: This year, Boehner was confronted with a threatened vote of no-confidence from the most conservative Republicans who demanded he force a bill through to defend Planned Parenthood, which would likely have led to another shutdown. In the end, Boehner's leadership style was out of fashion with many in his party. Brookings Institution congressional scholar Thomas Mann.

THOMAS MANN: He's had to operate in an environment in which his party has become purely oppositional and one that defines the Democratic president as the devil incarnate.

NAYLOR: Boehner announced his intention to resign from the House the day after Pope Francis addressed Congress, a personal triumph for Boehner, a devout Catholic. He described a private moment he had with the pope yesterday as Francis was preparing to leave.

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BOEHNER: The Pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says, please, pray for me. Well, who am I to pray for the pope? But I did.

NAYLOR: And after saying another prayer this morning, Boehner decided it was time to step down. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.