This style has won Boehner strong reviews from many GOP freshmen, as well as senior lawmakers who chafed under the strong-arm tactics of the previous leadership teams. Yet his kid-gloves approach has also led to perilous moments in which Boehner appeared to have no control over the House.
The past week brought the latest example of this dynamic when Boehner yielded to an uprising against the bipartisan Senate deal to extend by two months a popular payroll tax holiday and an extension of unemployment benefits. His rank-and-file Republicans demanded a full-year plan, risking the tax benefit expiring in January as a chorus of other Republicans and conservative figures warned that their party would get blamed for a tax hike.
Boehner threw in the towel Thursday and agreed to a two-month extension.
During a conference call Thursday afternoon, five days after the initial insurrection, Boehner left no chance for further revolt. The call was brief. Only Boehner spoke about the deal. He allowed no other lawmakers to add their voices, finally adopting a forceful tone that has been largely absent for most of the year. “This may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world, but I’m going to tell you what, I think our members waged a good fight,” he told reporters after the call.
This is a predicament largely of Boehner’s own making. He wants to be liked — not feared.
In his view, committee chairmen were supposed to be empowered, floor debates were supposed to be longer, with amendments flowing from both sides of the aisle, and inside his Republican Conference, the leaders would listen to the rank and file. “If there’s a more open process, and members are allowed to participate, guess what? It lets the steam out of the place,” he said in a September 2010 speech.
Boehner has lived up to some of his commitments — the committee process is still a work in progress — and that has earned him a wellspring of respect in some corners, no matter how messy the process sometimes appears. “They don’t come and say, ‘This is how it’s going to happen,’ ” freshman Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio) said admiringly of Boehner’s leadership team. “It’s really the people’s House working now.”
President Obama grew publicly furious with Boehner over the summer when the two men tried to negotiate a “grand bargain” on the federal government’s swelling debt problem, after the speaker twice walked away amid accusations from Obama that Boehner could not get a bill passed in his chamber.