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The rise, fall and rise of John Boehner
When Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich resigned under pressure. Boehner was voted out of the GOP leadership. As he walked out of the Capitol basement meeting room, he told his longtime chief of staff, Barry Jackson: "I'm going back to my committees. And I'm going to work hard and I'm going to let my work speak for itself."
Jackson drafted a long-term mission statement with the goal of getting Boehner back among his party's leaders. Among the proposals: raising campaign money for his colleagues.
By 2006, Boehner was once again on the rise. In January of that year, after DeLay resigned as majority leader amid a series of scandals, he pounced. He sent a 37-page mission statement to more than 230 House Republicans, declaring that "a majority that matters" must reclaim the reform mantle, both in terms of ethics and in terms of how the chamber was run.
Boehner's bid to succeed DeLay was based on his promise to be a different kind of leader. If Gingrich and DeLay epitomized the class bullies in his colleagues' eyes, Boehner gave off the vibe of a cool kid who didn't need to pick on those who were less popular.
He grew up working class in a two-bedroom house with 11 siblings, but Boehner is now a country club Republican. He lives in a wealthy neighborhood near the Wetherington Golf and Country Club in Butler County, Ohio, where his hectic campaign travel schedule has left less time for the game he loves. He grumbles that he has broken 80 just twice this year on his home course.
In Washington, Boehner is surrounded by a cadre of loyal, dedicated staffers and former staff members that forms the innermost circle of what they call BoehnerLand. Jackson, his chief of staff and confidante, is revered as someone who can deliver him news that he won't hear from anyone else.
"There have been times when [someone] might have mentioned, 'Hey, John needs to think about this, you know.' And rather than going to John, we'd go to Barry, because he can talk to him like nobody else," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a former House member who is close to Boehner.
Boehner is not close friends with any of the other elected Republican leaders, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the No. 3 leader as chairman of the Republican Conference. Instead, he has a core group of friends from the rank and file in both the House and the Senate. First among equals is Latham, who was elected in the last GOP wave, in 1994. Latham holds no leadership title and aspires to nothing more than higher seniority on the Appropriations Committee. He has free access to Boehner, serving as his eyes and ears on other lawmakers.
He and Latham are part of a "supper club" that also includes Chambliss and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), another former House member. Along with other lawmakers, they can frequently be found dining at restaurants on Capitol Hill.
His wife, Deborah, spends most of her time back home in Butler County, and his two daughters are grown. When he is in Washington, Boehner lives in a basement apartment near the Capitol that he rents from one of his lobbyist friends, John Milne of mCapitol Management.
Boehner has long drawn attention for his close relationship with lobbyists. His largest corporate donor over the past 20 years is AK Steel, an Ohio company whose lobbyists helped launch his political career in the mid-1980s. He has also accepted large checks from the financial services and insurance industries.
"I talk to everybody all the time," Boehner said. "The question is not how close I am to them, the question is whether the people agree with what I'm doing."
Now that he may be on the verge of becoming speaker, Boehner finds he has many more friends who can't wait to meet him. Every October, he holds a charity dinner in Washington to raise money for Catholic schools. (He used to co-host the event with Kennedy.) Last year, it drew a modest crowd, and Boehner pleaded with those in attendance to recruit more donors. This year, he had no such trouble. When Boehner arrived for the dinner, the ballroom was packed.