From The New York Times
“Public service was never meant to be an easy living,” Representative John
lamented Thursday, moments after he overcame a Republican
insurrection to win re-election as speaker of the House. For Mr. Boehner, it may
only get tougher from here.
After a tumultuous two years in which he struggled to
maintain a grip on his fractious caucus, Mr. Boehner — who won the unanimous
backing of his party when he was first elected speaker in 2011 — suffered the
indignity of 12 Republican defections on the opening day of the 113th Congress.
Nine cast their ballots for other people; two remained silent rather than vote,
and one simply declared, “Present.”
For Mr. Boehner, 63, of Ohio, it was a warning shot
from conservatives, a sobering reminder that while he may hold one of the most
powerful jobs in Washington, his power is greatly diminished. His Republican
ranks are thinner in the new Congress, and many of those who retired or were
defeated are moderates who ordinarily backed him.
Mr. Boehner will have to contend with the conservatives in his party, who remain
furious over the recent tax legislation because it did not include spending
Among them are several freshmen whose first act on
Thursday was to vote against Mr. Boehner.
Mr. Boehner is an unlikely person to have become
speaker of the House. The son of a bar owner, Mr. Boehner grew up in a big Roman
Catholic family — he was the second oldest of 12 children — that was not
especially political. He put himself through college and went to work for a
plastics distribution company, which he eventually wound up running.
His interest in politics blossomed after he became
active in the local homeowners association; eventually, he ran for the Ohio
legislature. His experience in business gave him a keen interest in regulatory
issues and other business concerns, which have been his signature issues.
With his genial manner — and prodigious fund-raising
efforts on behalf of fellow Republicans — Mr. Boehner has engendered
considerable good will within his party. Though he lost the support of some of
his fellow Republicans on Thursday, no one formally rose to challenge him.
“He’s personally well liked, and I think that’s
important,” said Ross K. Baker, an expert in Congress at Rutgers University.
“There haven’t been any coups mounted against Boehner, and I think that tells
But Mr. Boehner’s good-natured demeanor can sometimes
work against him. As one House Democrat said, insisting on anonymity to avoid
angering a leader, Republicans like him, but they do not fear him. The most
difficult task for any speaker is to keep his party in line, a lesson that Mr.
Boehner has learned the hard way.