Boehner Sounding More Like Speaker

Posted September 3, 2010 at 6:07pm

Between fundraising events on his multistate August bus trip, Minority Leader John Boehner began to transition from being the lead agitator for the minority party to the role he hopes to fill next year: Speaker of the House.

The Ohio Republican’s recent speeches in Cleveland and Milwaukee focused more on policy than politics — a sign, some Republicans say, that Boehner is trying to demonstrate he is more than just a prolific fundraiser and political strategist.

One senior GOP aide said that a Speaker doesn’t necessarily need strong policy credentials to be successful at the job, but that Boehner appears to be using the speeches to raise his national profile. “He is creating that aura of ‘I’m the guy in charge,'” the aide said.

Others say he is also trying to prepare the ground for the new Republican “governing agenda,” scheduled to be released at the end of the month.

During an Aug. 24 speech in Cleveland, Boehner talked at length about the economy and called on President Barack Obama to fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top economic adviser Larry Summers.

Although the content of Boehner’s speech dealt with many of the same economic themes Republicans have been promoting most of the year, his targets shifted from House Democrats to Obama’s administration.

The White House noticed the change, and Vice President Joseph Biden mocked Boehner’s comments at an event in Washington the same day. On Friday, the White House announced that Obama would go to Cleveland, “the city where Minority Leader Boehner recently detailed the Republican economic agenda,” this week to rebut the GOP’s economic proposals.

Democrats have criticized Boehner’s speeches as being long on rhetoric and short on details of how Republicans would handle the economy if the GOP gains control of the House.

A week later, Boehner continued his assault on Obama, criticizing the administration’s handling of national security issues and accusing the White House of repeatedly putting politics ahead of the safety of the country.

Boehner delivered his Aug. 31 speech at the American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee, hours before Obama’s prime-time address from the Oval Office to formally announce the end of combat operations in Iraq.

Those close to Boehner said the fact that his speech fell on the same day as Obama’s address was a scheduling coincidence, not an attempt to pre-empt the president.

[IMGCAP(1)]For years, Boehner, now in his 10th term, has been seen as an effective fundraiser and a successful leader among his colleagues, but not a master of in-depth policy analysis.

In August, Boehner traveled to at least nine states and attended a series of private fundraisers for more than a dozen candidates. As of July 31, his political action committee, the Freedom Project, had raised $2.4 million, most of which he has distributed to other candidates and party committees.

Republican pollster David Winston said Boehner’s speeches were meant to lay the groundwork for the new agenda Republicans plan to unveil at the end of the month.

Republicans have spent the summer soliciting ideas from the public and other sources through the agenda-setting America Speaking Out project.

“Boehner has been comfortable with policy for quite a while,” Winston said. “When he was chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, he was dealing with very complicated issues in a very direct way.”

Winston said Boehner’s position in leadership might have taken him out of the day-to-day policy debates, but his interest and his knowledge were always there.

John Feehery, a former leadership staffer and president of the Feehery Group, agreed Boehner has no need to bulk up his policy profile.

“The speeches have very effectively put the Obama administration on the defensive,” Feehery said. “Boehner’s policy credentials are probably more robust than any leader of either party tracing back to Bob Michel. He was very effective as chairman of the Ed and Labor Committee, and I think he will take that experience into the Speaker’s office should the Republicans get there.”

Aside from his recent speeches, Boehner has taken a number of steps to ensure his grasp on the gavel if Republicans win big in November.

Boehner began to talk about becoming Speaker in February during a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you help elect a Republican Congress this November, and I’m fortunate enough to be elected Speaker of the House, I pledge to you right here and now: We’re going to run the House differently,” Boehner said.

In April, Boehner and the National Republican Congressional Committee quietly founded a joint fundraising effort called the Boehner for Speaker Committee. As of the June 30 filing deadline, Boehner for Speaker had raised $570,300.

Since he defeated Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in 2006 in the race to replace former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Boehner has moved steadily to protect his position, filling important leadership and committee posts with allies.

Should Boehner become Speaker, it would be the culmination of a decade-long climb back to power after he was forced out of his spot as Republican Conference chairman following the 1998 elections.

Boehner also has votes of confidence from the Republican establishment outside the House, with prominent leaders saying that the Ohio Republican would help steer the party in the right direction.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) wrote in his weekly newsletter last week that Boehner’s history as a small-business owner and as a member of Gingrich’s leadership team made him a good fit to lead Congress into better economic times.

“By controlling spending and cutting taxes under the Gingrich Congress, job creation soared while the budget was balanced, leading to over $600 billion of federal debt being paid,” Gingrich wrote. “John remembers these principles well.”

One GOP strategist attributed Boehner’s higher profile to the increased likelihood Republicans could take over the House, rather than the content of his speeches.

“He’s doing exactly what the leader of the party should do,” the strategist said. “His timing has been great. … He has put the party in a position to take advantage of the wave that is coming.”