John Boehner is about to face the reality of the power he now holds.
The Ohio Republican, who will be elevated from Minority Leader to Speaker today, is up against an enormous challenge: He must appease a flock of conservative and ambitious GOP freshmen while putting in place a strategy for his party to expand its Congressional majority and win the White House in 2012.
The 112th Congress already is shaping up to be highly adversarial, with partisan showdowns looming over health care reform, federal spending and the debt, and a proposed Republican House rules package that would allow, among other things, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to craft a budget without Democratic input.
Democrats are locked in an internal debate over what kind of minority party to be after four years of wielding the Speaker’s gavel and controlling the House agenda.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — the first female Speaker — is far weaker than she once was: The California Democrat is expected to face public defections on the House floor today from unhappy moderate Democrats who still blame her for the loss of their majority on Nov. 2 and believe she should have stepped aside to make way for new leadership. Pelosi won her bid in November to serve as leader in the new Congress, although 43 Members chose Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) instead.
The official transfer of House power is set to occur this afternoon after Dean of the House John Dingell (D-Mich.) administers the oath of office to Boehner, who will win the support of a majority of House Members to serve as Speaker. Republicans are expected to unanimously support Boehner, while most Democrats will back Pelosi. However, Shuler intends to challenge Pelosi again, voting for himself for the top House job. A number of other like-minded Democrats have indicated they will follow Shuler’s lead.
In his speech today, Boehner will focus on his plans to reform House operations and the “need for the House to listen to the American people, and do their will,” while also reminding Members that they cannot afford to avoid “the tough choices that need to be made about our nation’s future,” according to one aide to the incoming Speaker. Boehner is also expected to use the address to once again tell his life story — stressing his blue-collar upbringing as the son of a bar owner in western Ohio.
Boehner has been preparing for his new job for weeks. But one senior Democratic aide said the Speakership is far different from the role of Minority Leader.
“He’s no longer the head of a minority that’s trying to rebuild their base and make gains ahead of the next election,” the Democratic aide said. “He’s the head of the whole Congress, essentially.”