Boehner’s Allies Key to Ambitions
In November 1998, Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) was unceremoniously pushed out of his post as Republican Conference chairman after disastrous election results and a tumultuous four years in leadership.
In the six years since then, Boehner has quietly worked to rekindle old relationships and build new ones and in the process has established a broad political network that includes House Members, current and former Congressional aides, and a host of prominent lobbyists.
Those relationships could be the key in determining whether Boehner will ever return to the leadership ranks. While Boehner has long been considered a potential candidate whenever Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) decides to retire, more recently another potential avenue to power has opened up.
Though there is no indication that Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is anywhere near stepping down from his post, the swirl of controversy surrounding the Texan has prompted a renewed focus on Boehner as a potential candidate to replace him.
Yet Boehner has not stepped up his public political activity or done anything else to give the impression that he is campaigning for a future leadership job. Fearful that he could be seen as trying to push DeLay out the door — a perception that would likely be fatal to Boehner’s chances — the Ohio lawmaker and his allies have worked hard to tamp down any rumors about interest in a return to leadership.
“The timing on this is key,” said a Republican close to the leadership. “I think it makes a lot more sense for him to lay low.”
And even if a job opened, Boehner would by no means be assured of winning a leadership race. Depending on how the dominoes fall and the post in question, Boehner could end up facing DeLay, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) or National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), all of whom boast formidable networks of their own.
As a result, some senior Republican Members and aides, including those who like Boehner personally, wonder whether he has the depth of support among lawmakers that would be necessary to beat one of those candidates.
On Capitol Hill, Boehner has made friends and allies through the Education and the Workforce Committee, which he chairs, and the Agriculture Committee, on which he serves as vice chairman. On the social front, Boehner has developed other relationships through two of his favorite pursuits — golf and smoking.
In addition to the Members he has met through his policy work and fundraising, Boehner also has former aides in key positions, including Brian Gaston and Sam Geduldig in Blunt’s office.
Off the Hill, former Boehner staffers hold posts in the White House and on K Street, where the Ohio lawmaker has numerous fans.
Boehner gets more fundraising attention than one would expect for the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, a panel that corporate lobbyists do not consider an “A” assignment. In the previous election cycle, Boehner’s leadership PAC, the Freedom Project, reported more than $1.5 million in receipts.
One of Boehner’s former aides, Josh Mathis, a lobbyist at Bockorny Petrizzo, said lobbyists appreciate his one-time boss because “he is honest, upfront, you always know exactly where you stand with him, to put it mildly. He’s very approachable and accessible.”
In more than a dozen interviews with Republican lobbyists, they described a Member who stays longer than expected at fundraising events, seems to enjoy discussing the issues and always remembers a face. He doesn’t, they say, just pack up once his checks are in hand.
Almost without exception, lobbyists say that what Boehner has done with the Education committee has only helped spread the word that he has leadership potential — again.
“Boehner has made no bones that he wants back into leadership. Boehner is seen as the one with no fear. I think it’s a question of when, not if, he’s back in leadership again,” said one GOP lobbyist.
As Conference chairman, one of the Congressman’s jobs was to help coordinate coalitions among outside lobbying groups. Dating to his earliest days in Congress, Boehner has surrounded himself with a collection of key advisers and friends with experience downtown. Some of them such as Bruce Gates and Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, participated in his Thursday group sessions.
“I think he would say the defeat in the Conference race turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave him the opportunity to work on the Education and Workforce Committee, to hone his skills as a legislator and to work on an issue he feels passionately about,” said Gates, a partner at Washington Council Ernst & Young who is also close to many other Republicans in Congress, including DeLay.
On March 16, the government relations-focused Bryce Harlow Foundation presented Boehner with its annual Bryce Harlow Award. A teary-eyed Boehner spoke about the importance of education to poor students and about his own humble upbringing.
“I really don’t feel like I deserve this honor,” he told the crowd.
Lobbyists say Boehner took a committee that was strapped by partisan bickering and has produced broadly supported legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act.
“Not that he needed any rehabilitation, but if there was any rehabilitation needed, he certainly did it as chairman of the Ed committee,” said one lobbyist who did not want his name published.
Roll Call spoke to dozens of Members, staffers and lobbyists to determine who belonged on a list of Boehner’s closest allies. (Of course, inclusion on this list does not mean any of the following people would necessarily support Boehner in a future leadership race, only that they have close relationships with him.)
On the Hill
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa)
Latham is one of Boehner’s oldest friends on the Hill. He and two other Members of the House freshman class of 1994 — current Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — joined class of 1990 alum Boehner to form a tight foursome. Latham and Boehner and their wives see each other socially on a regular basis.
Along with education, Boehner is best known for working on agriculture issues, and Latham has also worked hard on farm policy through his post on the Appropriations Committee.
On the same policy front, Boehner has a close relationship with Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio)
Boehner has strong ties to several members of the Ohio delegation, but GOP aides suggested that his relationship with the chairman of the Financial Services Committee is probably the closest one Boehner has in the state. Both men are prodigious fundraisers and formidable golfers. In addition to Oxley, Boehner also has close relationships with Ohio GOP Reps. David Hobson, Steven LaTourette and Patrick Tiberi.
Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.)
Like Oxley, McCrery is also known for his fundraising ability and his love of golf. McCrery is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and a candidate for the top post when current Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) surrenders the gavel next year due to term limits.
Both McCrery and Boehner have worked hard in the past on employer-provided health care issues.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho)
Simpson and Boehner are part of a small group informally known by denizens of the Speaker’s Lobby as the “Smoker’s Caucus.” The two men — along with Latham, Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and a handful of others — can be seen during most House votes sitting in the leather recliners on the west side of the Lobby, smoking and chatting.
Boehner and Simpson worked closely together on the Agriculture panel before Simpson won a spot on the Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.)
Boehner is close to several members of the Education and the Workforce panel, the most senior of whom is the current panel Vice Chairman McKeon.
The California lawmaker is well-liked throughout the Conference and is hoping to succeed Boehner as chairman when he is term-limited out of his post at the end of this Congress. Elsewhere on the Education roster, Boehner is also close to Republican Reps. Judy Biggert (Ill.), Sam Johnson (Texas) and Mike Castle (Del.).
Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.)
Though they do not serve on any committees together, Hart and Boehner have forged a close relationship. At the start of the 108th Congress Hart lost a bid to be Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman, but she is well-respected and still seen by other Members as a potential future member of leadership.
Hart is one of a handful of more junior lawmakers who have forged close ties with Boehner in recent years, That group also includes Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.).
Off the Hill
Jackson served as Boehner’s chief of staff and right-hand man throughout the Ohio lawmaker’s rise and fall from the GOP leadership, and he was a key architect of the 1994 “Contract with America” that helped propel the GOP into power.
In 2001, Jackson left the Hill to head the Bush administration’s Office of Strategic Initiatives. Since then, Jackson has risen through the White House ranks and is now known as one of Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove’s closest aides.
Schellhas, vice president for federal government affairs at Citigroup, was executive director of Boehner’s PAC in the late 1990s. Schellhas met Boehner and Jackson in 1994 during the Contract with America and signed on a year later as deputy chief of staff in the personal office. For the Freedom Project, Schellhas was in charge of fundraising and planning events.
Schellhas later went on to become chief of staff to Ohio Rep. Rob Portman (R) before leaving the Hill for K Street.
If Boehner were to run for a leadership position again, Schellhas, lobbyists say, would have a keen understanding of who the Congressman’s key supporters would be.
Fish served as Boehner’s legislative director and handled agriculture policy, which dovetailed with Fish’s current job as federal government affairs vice president for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. He has remained close with his former boss.
Lampkin, a lobbyist with Quinn Gillespie and Associates, worked for Boehner as general counsel at the House Republican Conference in the late 1990s. Lampkin’s clients include DaimlerChrysler, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Sony.
Lampkin is also plugged in with the Bush operation, having served as deputy campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000. Another Boehner alum and ally, Terry Holt also works at Quinn Gillespie.
Bruce Gates and Henry Gandy
Unlike some in the Boehner inner circle, neither Gates nor Gandy has worked on the Congressman’s staff. Gates’ wife, Joyce, however, served as Boehner’s coalitions director and later chief of staff.
Gates, who at the time worked for the Food Distributors International, first met Boehner during freshman orientation at the Kennedy School at Harvard University before the newly elected Congressman took office in January 1991.
Gates has served as treasurer of Boehner’s leadership PAC, the Freedom Project, since its inception in 1995.
Gandy, whose registered lobbying clients include Accenture and the Business Roundtable, works at the Duberstein Group. He first worked with Boehner in 1995 on several issues after Republicans took control of Congress.
Gates and Gandy are probably best known outside the Boehner kitchen cabinet as the hosts of the Republican National Convention “Warehouse” parties, which are always one of the hottest tickets around every four years.
Andres, the vice chairman of public policy and research at Dutko Worldwide, is one of the few lobbyists in Washington who has a Ph.D. in public policy. His knack for public opinion research comes in handy with several Members as well as Dutko clients.