By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 3, 2006
In choosing John Boehner to be their new majority leader, House Republicans rejected a member of Tom DeLay's leadership team and resurrected a fallen Newt Gingrich lieutenant.
Boehner's surprise victory over Roy Blunt in yesterday's election completes an extraordinary political comeback for the collegial, heavy-smoking and richly tanned Ohioan. Eight years ago, he lost his position as chairman of the House Republican Conference as his patron, Gingrich, fell from the speakership. But as chairman of the House education committee, he regained favor among his colleagues and made his move when DeLay was forced to abandon the majority leadership.
Boehner positioned himself as a fresh alternative to a House GOP leadership team sullied by lobbying scandals. First elected in 1990, he earned his credentials as a reformer early in his career when as a member of the "Gang of Seven" he exposed lawmakers who had overdrafts from the House bank; more recently, he has championed an effort to abolish funding for lawmakers' pet projects, known as "earmarks."
But Boehner has had his share of taint. He handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor in 1995 while lawmakers were weighing tobacco subsidies. In 2004, he allowed Sallie Mae to throw him a fundraiser while the student lending outfit was lobbying his committee. And he is a frequent flier on trips paid for by special interests.
Above all, Boehner has the reputation of an old-time deal-making politician. He is chatty, earning him many friends in the media. And Democrats have found that they can work with him. During President Bush's first term, Boehner worked with Rep. George Miller, a California liberal, to enact education legislation that many conservatives opposed. Boehner had earlier tried to abolish the Education Department, but he changed his view and endorsed a significant federal role in education.
John Andrew Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner) was born in 1949 and grew up in Cincinnati, one of 12 children. As a young man, he worked for a pharmaceutical company, then received a degree from Xavier University, and ran a plastics and packaging business for 15 years. He served for five years as a member of the Ohio House before his 1990 election.
A Catholic, Boehner has a strongly conservative voting record but is more of a chamber-of-commerce Republican than a religious conservative. With no need to worry about reelection in his safe western Ohio district, he helped Gingrich become Republican leader and earned the conference chairmanship, the fourth-ranking member of leadership, after the 1994 GOP landslide.
As a party leader, Boehner championed efforts to end farm subsidies, and he started a weekly meeting between lawmakers, conservative groups and trade associations. He filed a high-profile invasion-of-privacy lawsuit after a Florida couple secretly taped a cell-phone conversation in which he discussed GOP strategy.
Though long a Gingrich acolyte, Boehner was suspected of having a role in the failed 1997 GOP coup against him. The next year, after the party lost seats in the midterm elections, Boehner, who clashed with then-Majority Whip DeLay, lost his conference chairman job to Oklahoma's J.C. Watts.
But Boehner plotted a comeback, winning over his colleagues in part by his energetic fundraising. His political action committee has given Republicans nearly $3 million since 1996. In 2001, a rehabilitated Boehner was given the chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee.