Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was reelected speaker of the House with only 12 defections, far less than needed even to require a floor fight. Those cheering for (let alone predicting) a Boehner defeat once again reveal themselves to be operating in some other political universe. Very slowly now: Boehner . . . is . . . popular . . . among . . . House Republicans including conservatives. Moreover, no one else seriously wants to take the job from him.
His speech to the House (written, his staff says, by Boehner and speechwriter Mike Ricci) was appropriate to the moment and even stirring. He told the members: “To our new members and their families, welcome. You are likely feeling awestruck right about now. History runs through here. And now you are among a select few to share in this privilege. For those who are returning, who have walked these aisles before, maybe it’s time we feel awestruck again.” He stressed that they are there to do important things: “Put simply, we are sent here not to be something, but to do something – to do the right thing. It’s a big job, and it comes with big challenges.”
Given the amount of chest thumping and sanctimony that has been emanating from the House, he was certainly justified in telling his colleagues:
Public service was never meant to be an easy living. Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership.
So if you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you.
If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place.
There is a time to every purpose under Heaven. For the 113th Congress, it is a time to rise. When the day is over, and the verdict is read, may it be said that we well and faithfully did our duty to ensure freedom will endure and prevail.
The sole mention of policy was the debt. In remarks aimed well beyond the House chambers he said: “Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems. At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state.” Kicking it up a notch, he declared, “The American Dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home. Confidence will come back. We do this not just to boost GDP or reduce unemployment, but to secure for our children a future of freedom and opportunity. Nothing is more important.”
Boehner’s singular focus is telling. Those hoping for forays into gun control and/or immigration reform will have to cool their heels for a bit.
The first day of Congress, like the first day of any job or of school, is filled with optimism; no mistakes have been made, and no shoddy work has been performed. Aspirations are high. The trick will be maintaining some sense of high-mindedness as the weeks and months go by. Boehner has a dual problem: A president unwilling to reform entitlements and too many House members afraid of the far right and too immature to recognize politics is the art of the possible. No wonder no one really wanted his job.