Boehner watched the white-knuckle proceedings from off the floor. It was the closest any speaker has come to not securing a first-ballot victory since Newt Gingrich’s narrow reelection in January 1997, following an ethics admonishment.
The anti-Boehner faction cast its votes for a odd collection of Republicans, including tea party icon Allen B. West of Florida, a one-term congressman who lost his reelection bid in November. But it did not drain away enough support to topple the speaker. The position, second in the line of succession for the presidency, does not have to be held by a current member of Congress.
In an emotional speech after his victory, the speaker did not mention the opposition. Instead, he described his personal ethos of not being someone who seeks media attention. It was an acknowledgment of what some of his GOP colleagues consider one of Boehner’s problems, because he has been opposed by “show horses” who manage to get lots of attention for their opposing views.
“So if you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you,” the speaker said, at times fighting back tears. “If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place.”
The tone of Thursday’s swearing-in was markedly different from Boehner’s first triumph two years ago, when the bulging GOP class of 2010 propelled Republicans into the majority and allowed Boehner to accomplish his career goal of being speaker.
But he has had trouble effectively wielding the speaker’s gavel at times. His hands-off style has often allowed minor rebellions to turn into major setbacks.
The vote came two days after the House passed a tax plan that avoided “fiscal cliff” austerity measures that were set to begin Jan. 1. The GOP leadership essentially ceded control of the floor to the Democratic minority for that vote, with Democrats providing 171 of the yes votes to approve the bill, while just 85 Republicans voted in support.
In that vote, the GOP leadership team spent a wild day trying to decide what to do with legislation that a clear majority of House Republicans opposed because it included tax increases on the wealthy.