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Their Long and Winding Road

Spanning Almost 20 Years, Current and Former Speaker Share a Somewhat Tumultuous History

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
One-time insurgency partners, current Speaker John Boehner (left) was part of a 1997 attempted coup of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Days after Nancy Pelosi took the Speaker's gavel in 2007, former Speaker Newt Gingrich told Republicans at a closed-door retreat in Cambridge, Md., "John Boehner will be Speaker, and it will happen more quickly than you can imagine."

It was not Gingrich at his boldest. "I want to shift the entire planet," he told the Washington Post in 1985.

But with his remarks coming immediately after steep losses for Republicans, Gingrich showed surprising confidence in and support for the Ohio Republican.

Things have not always been so rosy between the two, whose shared history and ideology spans nearly 20 years in public life. They have sharply different personalities and have run the House with distinct styles. But as Gingrich rises in his presidential bid, these one-time partners in insurgency are near the height of their political power at the same time. Again.

The worst days in the Gingrich-Boehner relationship came in 1997, when a band of frustrated conservatives eager for more rapid changes launched a coup to depose Gingrich, who had been weakened by a House reprimand over ethical issues. Boehner's role in the failed uprising remains hotly disputed, but in the tumult that followed, Boehner lost his leadership position.

Boehner has not yet faced an overthrow, but he has also seen plenty of unhappiness to his right and much more quickly. Unlike Gingrich, who was widely credited with leading the GOP from 40 years in the wilderness to a House majority in 1994, Boehner is dealing with tea party conservatives who cite allegiance to a movement, not a person.

It's interesting, then, that Gingrich and Boehner began as fiery right-wing insurgents themselves.

Gingrich forced Democratic Speaker Jim Wright (Texas) to retire over questions about a book deal (Gingrich later faced controversy over a book deal, too). Boehner rose to prominence as a member of the "gang of seven," which attacked Democrats over the House banking scandal. "John Boehner from the 8th district of Ohio," he said, introducing himself at a press conference in May 1992, standing next to Gingrich. "We're literally unable, this Congress is unable to deal with the real issues in our society today until we reform."

After a surge of legislative action following the GOP takeover in which Republicans passed most of their "Contract With America" agenda in a 100-day flurry, Gingrich settled in as a Speaker who didn't really strive for order.

"We'd go from crisis to crisis," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), an ally of Boehner's. "Whereas Boehner sort of has this steady-as-she-goes approach."

"Sometimes we'd take a position on Monday and it'd change by Wednesday," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was in the House during the mid-1990s and was a leader of the attempted coup.

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