For Boehner, there's crying in politics - and other times, too

Rep. John Boehner showed his emotions during his speech to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 4:53 PM

Rep. John A. Boehner's introduction to the world as President Obama's lead antagonist wasn't exactly a tough-guy moment.

The House minority leader, who will become speaker in January based on the more than 60-seat pickup for Republicans, spent a the final 90 seconds of his five-minute valedictory speech Tuesday night fighting back tears. He often lost the fight.

To those who have followed Boehner (R-Ohio), it was standard operating procedure: The 60-year-old's proclivity for showing his emotions is legendary. He's cried during retirement speeches by other lawmakers. He's cried during victory speeches. He's cried while eulogizing close friends. He's cried at gala dinners, and he's cried in closed meetings.

His friends say there's a method to the madness. "When you see that happen, you really get to the core of what he believes," Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said. In an interview long before Tuesday night, Latham spelled out one of two sure-fire moments that will break down the presumptive speaker's tear ducts: speaking "about why he originally ran . . . to make a difference, because he wants to keep the country great."

Sure enough, almost 31/2 minutes into his remarks Tuesday, Boehner returned to where it all began, in his small town of Reading outside Cincinnati, learning the ropes mopping floors and tending bar at Andy's Cafe, the family-owned pub.

"Listen, I hold these values dear because I've lived them," Boehner told the GOP crowd at a downtown Washington hotel, beginning to sniffle. "I spent my whole life chasing . . . the American dream."

The word "dream" was no sooner out of his mouth then he just started crying, pausing a full 20 seconds to soak in the moment and fight back the tears as the crowd chanted "USA, USA." Boehner finally returned to tough-guy form, yelling, "All right!" He fought back tears for the entire final minute of the speech.

(WATCH VIDEO: Boehner gets emotional during speech.)

The crying scene was played in all day Wednesday by the cable news outlets. Sheepishly, Boehner owned up Wednesday morning to his inability to control himself.

"Most of you know it's just a little difficult to talk about my background or talk about my family," he said. "And I thought - I thought I was going to be in good shape, but not as good as it turned out."

Boehner's tears mark a sharp contrast to outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who almost never displayed any such signs in her four-year run. One of her rare moments came during the health-care debate last spring when she was asked about some of the alleged threats to politicians, prompting her to recall the assassination of San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

There's another definite tear-jerker for Boehner, Latham said. "It's kids and education, he'll cry in a heartbeat."

Boehner served five years as the chairman of what was then called the Education and Workforce Committee, when he co-wrote the No Child Left Behind Act. That experience has left him very upset whenever he speaks about poor children who have no access to good schools. Along with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who co-wrote the education legislation, Boehner started hosting an annual charity event to benefit poor children from the District of Columbia to attend Catholic schools.

Regular attendees say they brace themselves each year for Boehner's tear-filled speeches, which sometimes can become uncomfortable to watch. In early October, at this year's event, they marveled at how Boehner kept his emotions in check and didn't make a public spectacle.

However, as different children were giving presentations to the packed room at the Capital Hilton, Boehner was at his own table, tears rolling down his eyes.

MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST: The rise, fall and rise of John Boehner.

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