The day after becoming the most powerful Republican in the country, presumptive Speaker John Boehner wasn’t acting like it.
There was no jubilation as the Ohio Republican acknowledged his party’s victories in Tuesday’s elections. Instead, he solemnly laid out the tough work ahead of the new House majority.
“As you’ve heard me say last night, we are humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us,” Boehner said during a press conference Wednesday. “And we recognize this is a time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work on the people’s priorities: creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress does its business.”
Boehner has every reason to be cautious. Although he describes himself as a homegrown small-business owner, he has spent the past 20 years in Washington, D.C., and held several leadership positions in Congress. His incoming majority includes a passel of new Members who allied themselves with the tea party movement and assailed Washington insiders.
In response to questions submitted by Roll Call, Boehner said he has a deep kinship with this group.
“Well, I have a distrust of Washington too; that’s why I left my small business and ran for Congress in the first place, and it’s why I’m still here,” Boehner said. “And look, I’ve met a lot of these folks. I’ve been to their Congressional Districts. And when it comes to stopping the Washington spending spree and creating jobs, or repealing and replacing ObamaCare — there is zero daylight between us.”
Boehner is often described by Republicans inside and outside the Dome as a low-key, no-nonsense leader who puts his head down and completes tasks with as little drama as possible.
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who is expected to be Boehner’s choice to chair the Rules Committee in the 112th Congress, said one of the reasons that Boehner will be a good Speaker is his keen knowledge of the institution. Dreier described one particularly crowded Rules panel hearing in 2001 on the Patient’s Bill of Rights where Boehner waited patiently on the floor of the committee room for hours before having his amendment considered.
“He literally has spent time in the trenches,” Dreier said.
Those close to Boehner outside the Capitol agree his hand has been steadied by his decade-long climb back to power after being expelled from leadership after the 1998 elections.
“At that time, everybody thought he was dead, that he had lost his passion,” said one former Republican leadership aide.