The Speakership of John Boehner: a political commentary

On September 25 of 2015, John Boehner announced his decision to resign from the House’s speakership. This outcome puts an end to the Ohio’s representative political career and serves as a milestone in American politics.

“Man, I’m going to miss you” These words are Obama’s at the phone with John Boehner right after he announced his resignation. Such words coming from a democrat president can be considered as symbolical of the importance of John Boehner in US politics.

We have to say that we used to hear Boehner’s hammer regulating stormy debates between Representatives. Indeed, for the past four years, Boehner served as Speaker of the House. After taking Nancy Pelosi’s place in 2011, he was reelected in 2013 and in 2015. However, the Republican’s career cannot be summarized by this period. After his start in the political sphere by serving as an Ohio state representative in 1985, John Boehner was systematically reelected and progressively built name recognition. Finally, he is elected for the first time Representative of the House in 1991.

A symbol of the Republican renewal

Being one of the House’s youngest members, Boehner was part of the « Gang of Seven » which was a group of freshmen Republicans. This group aimed at tackling corruption in Congress by drawing attention to political scandals like the 1992 House Banking one. The « Gang of Seven » helped Republicans to gain control of Congress in the 1994 elections and Boehner became a prominent Republican figure. He was considered as a fierce social conservative and as a supporter of pro-business and small-government policies. In 1996, Boehner was willing to pass the Freedom to Farm Act, and in 2001 he backed up the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2006, he managed the writing of the Pension Protection Act. When the economic crisis struck the world in late 2008, Boehner voted to bail out financial institutions with the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, which provided $700 billions to financial institutions. Still, it cannot be denied that Boehner did not run out of of fights during his life.

An ascending career

The height of John Boehner’s career was clearly the end of his career. When he was elected Speaker of the House in 2011, not only did he become the first Speaker from Ohio since 1931 but he also brought relief to Republicans after their victory in 2010’s midterms. Eventually, Boehner was welcomed as a hero by the Republican Party.

Obama’s rival

During all his time as the House majority leader, Boehner was deeply involved against all of Obama’s policies. The Speaker of the House stood in the way of many of the President’s policies. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Affordable Care Act and withdrawing troops from Iraq are issues which Boehner was opposed to.

Moreover, the speaker of the House was in fact opposed to all Democrats, as revealed in the « Boehner’s plan » drafted to counter Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to resolve the debt crisis in 2011.

Despite the willingness of some to work together, the battle between Democrats and Republicans was always much more bitter in the Boehner-led House.

“We miss « Crybaby ».

We better understand the reasons why some Representatives regretted the former speaker’s decision when he decided to retreat himself from US politics. In the absence of the one we often call « Crybaby » (for all the times he has cried in public), emptiness characterizes how American politics look like now.

The reasons behind Boehner’s resignation: discord among republicans…

John Boehner’s resignation as Speaker of the House has led many to question his decision. However, Boehner’s resignation seems closely linked to the increasing divisions inside the Republican Party. Getting everybody to agree has been a challenging task for the former majority leader and may have been one of the reasons he has resigned. Tensions inside the Republican Party are indeed reflecting the increasing divisions between Party members. This situation has revealed itself to be difficult for Party leaders in their work to build consensus inside the Republican Party. A striking example of this is Mark Meadows’ (R-North Carolina) motion in July 2015 to remove John Boehner from the House’s speakership, a motion that eventually failed. The more conservative factions of the Republican Party have pushed Boehner to be more confrontational with President Obama over the “wedge issues” (immigration, healthcare reform, abortion..) , thus making any form of compromise obsolete. This victory of confrontation over consensus has led a number of people to think of this as Boehner being unable to face oppositions among his fellow republicans. Some of Boehner’s supporters have even admitted that he did not take on the challenge offered by the more conservative factions of his Party. Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina has said that the former Speaker of the House was “fighting the 21st century battles with 1990 tools”, thus implying that Boehner’s strategy was ineffective. John Boehner’s resignation reveals itself however to be more of a symbol of how the absence of consensus among republicans really affects the Party’s leadership.

…that serves as an indicator of the Party’s heterogeneity

Although most republicans share the same goals and conservative values, their unity is hindered by the various degrees of conservatism inside the. Indeed, the GOP (Grand Old Party) is split between two main factions, the “establishment” republicans and “populist” republicans. The latter are more conservative on wedge issues. Far-right movements such as the Tea Party form a minority but have clashed with the Party’s leadership minority. This division increases partisanship between party members and makes the possibility of reaching an agreement unlikely.

Un article de Lucas SZYMKOWIAK et Jeremy McCALLA


Toolbox:

1985: first time Boehner is elected Ohio state Representative

1991: he enters at the House of Representatives

1992 House Banking scandal

1996: Boehner’s attempts to pass the Freedom to Farm Act

2001: He backed up the No Child Left Behind Act

2006: Writing of the Pension Protection Act

2008: TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program)

2011: John Boehner becomes President of the House.

25/09/2015: Resignation speech in front of the House of Representatives

29/10/2015: Paul Ryan is elected new Speaker of the House.

Boehner’s plan: plan to resolve the debt crisis to face Democratic Senate

Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan

Crybaby: « pleurnicheur »

Gang of seven: group of freshman Republicans that helped Republicans to gain

control of Congress in the 1994 elections

Sources:

Politico, “How Boehner might rethink his speakership”, David Rogers, 03/04/15

The Washington Post, “ The rolling disaster of John Boehner’s speakership”, Paul Waldman, 16/02/15

Vox, “ John Boehner’s resignation, explained”, Matthew Yglesias, 25/09/15

The Washington Post, “House Speaker John Boehner to resign at end of October”, Mike Deboris and Paul Kane, 25/09/15

Politico, “Boehner’s resignation: Sacrifice or retreat?”, David Rogers, 25/09/15

RealClear Politics, “Post-Boehner, Republicans want New House Processes”, James Arkin, 02/10/2015

Politico, « Life after power », Jake Sherman, 16/11/15

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