This was not the first week on the job that Speaker John Boehner envisioned.
Rather than cheering his first legislative victory — the repeal of the Democratic health care reform law — the Ohio Republican marked his eighth day by delivering a tearful tribute on the floor to victims of the Arizona shootings. Instead of playing the role of a partisan, Boehner found himself practicing the art of a statesman.
“Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not,” Boehner said Wednesday in floor remarks on the tragedy. “This is a time for the House to lock arms, in prayer for those fallen and wounded, and in resolve to carry on the dialogue of democracy. We may not yet have all the answers, but we already have the answer that matters most: that we are Americans, and together we will make it through this. We will have the last word.”
Later, during a closed-door bipartisan prayer service, Boehner told Members: “Our nation mourns for the victims. It yearns for peace. And it thirsts for answers.”
Boehner had been Speaker for just three days when the mass shooting occurred. Within hours, he issued a public statement condemning the attack and — along with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — canceled all regular House business for the week. As liberal and conservative outside groups and bloggers pointed fingers, Boehner joined his fellow Members in calling for unity.
Republicans and Democrats alike said Boehner has had a calming influence in a time of crisis.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, a former House Democrat who attended Wednesday’s prayer service, gave Boehner high marks for his handling of a difficult situation. She said, “We have to work together ... you’re kind of in a small group here.”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Boehner has “taken all the right steps.”
Rep. John Kline, a longtime Boehner friend and ally, said Boehner has done a good job leading the chamber in a time of tragedy, though he acknowledged it is probably too early to start assessing his tenure as Speaker.
“It’s very hard to make a measure considering everything that’s happened in this first week except through that lens of how he’s handled that shooting,” the Minnesota Republican said.
Boehner said he began the job clear-eyed, recognizing the responsibility that comes with the highest position in the House.
“I think I was prepared for it, I think my staff was prepared for it and the officers of the House all worked together with us,” said Boehner, who is now in his 11th term.
Boehner noted that the tragedy has afforded Members the opportunity to step away from the partisanship that so often defines what they do.
“While the public sees us usually having debates over policy, what most people don’t see is that Members across the aisle have very strong relationships and ... there’s a great deal of camaraderie amongst the body as a whole,” Boehner said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.