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The rise, fall and rise of John Boehner

As Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress, outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) handed over her gavel to Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

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His hands-off style has its critics among Republicans. Some believe he isn't a forceful enough presence to lead lawmakers where they are reluctant to go. In late September 2008, Boehner headed the effort to secure votes to pass the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, something the Bush administration was pushing.

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Privately, he told his colleagues that the legislation was a "crap sandwich," but they had to support it or the entire financial sector would implode. On Sept. 29, 2008, only a third of the GOP conference - 65 Republicans - supported Boehner as the legislation went down and the stock markets plummeted nearly 800 points.

Inside his office an hour later, Boehner, taking long drags on his ever-present Camel cigarettes (he is exempted from the Capitol's smoking ban while in his office), explained that it was almost impossible to pull off the vote. He stuttered over the words "break arms," saying it just wasn't something he could do.

Four days later, when the House voted again and approved the measure, Boehner couldn't get his closest friends, such as Latham and Rep. Steven C. LaTourrette (R-Ohio), to back the legislation.

By Election Day 2008, Republican congressional leaders had an approval rating of just 24 percent, and Republicans suffered a second straight loss of more than 20 seats. But Boehner never considered stepping down. "There are a lot of factors that go into how elections are won and lost. If I had felt responsible for what happened in '06 and '08, I would have left," he said in late September.

'Leading the team'

The 2010 midterms, however, are a different story: Boehner feels responsible for the GOP's campaign strategy, both in the House and at the National Republican Congressional Committee. He has campaigned at more than 170 events around the country and has raised $44 million for GOP candidates, helping them so they will help him when it comes time to choose their leader.

"I'm leading the team," he said.

He has become a major draw for special interests, particularly large businesses. His own reelection account serves largely as a transfer vehicle for donations to the NRCC to use in other, competitive races - since he wins every two years with about 70 percent of the vote. This election cycle, political action committees have donated $2.4 million to Boehner's reelection effort.

After encountering tea party activists in his travels, Boehner met with his GOP colleagues and delivered a message: Meet these folks in your districts. "Get on the right side of these people," he said, according to one aide in the room.

Boehner said he feels a certain kinship with the outsider candidates, who remind him of himself 20 years ago. Back then, Boehner was the president of Nucite Sales, a plastics company in southwestern Ohio, and a member of the state legislature. When the local congressman got into an ethics scandal, Boehner jumped into the Republican primary and went on to win the election.

Boehner immediately made himself a nuisance in Washington. He joined up with a group of other freshman, dubbed the "Gang of Seven," and exposed a series of scandals at the House bank. They were rebels against the institution, and by the summer of 1994 Gingrich brought Boehner, then in his second term, into his fold.

Under Gingrich, Boehner rose to the No. 4 position in the House leadership. As the chairman of the GOP conference, he was in charge of connections to outside groups and K Street. He learned to play a key fundraising role, leading to an infamous moment when he distributed corporate PAC donations to other Republicans on the House floor. (He later apologized and helped pass a rule forbidding distributing donations on the floor.)


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