Boehner and the Disappearing Art of the Deal

It was easy to miss in yesterday’s flurry of news about indictments and Kevin Spacey, but Politico has published a long and fascinating piece based on 18 hours of interviews with former House Speaker and longtime congressman John Boehner. After 25 years of hard-driving Washington deal-making, Boehner retired from Congress in near-ignominy in 2014, having been driven out in part by ultra-conservative firebrands who didn’t care for some of Boehner’s deals.

The article is full of juicy tidbits about Washington personalities and the machinations that make our government run. But it also sparks a little nostalgia for the old-school Washington politics that are quickly dying out.

Boehner embodied those politics–he knew the art of the deal and understood that, to accomplish anything in Washington, he needed to cultivate relationships with his “enemies” across the aisle. Contrast that with today’s stubborn ideologues who seem to be taking over Congress: to appease their base, they refuse to make even the slightest concession to the other side. To compromise, they think, is to cave in to “evil”–and so the divide between Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives, keeps widening and deepening.

These ideologues seem to forget that America is a republic, which means that all voices–no matter how extreme or distasteful–have representation in government. It means that someone whose beliefs are repugnant to you still has a say, and a lot of folks in this entitled generation don’t like that. They want what they want, and they won’t take anything less.

There is plenty to dislike about Boehner and his style of legislating. He’s a mixed bag–just like those old-school Washington politics were, with their cronyism and backroom dealing. But if our “principled” representatives won’t compromise, it ultimately renders the Everyman powerless. Only the powerful who know how to work the system will get a voice, and that power will keep consolidating. And then America won’t look much like America anymore.

Boehner Trolls GOP: Obamacare Repeal/Replace ‘Not Going To Happen’

What an asshat.

Ousted Speaker John Boehner, aka the administrator of acquiescence, the satrap of surrender, the Duke of dedition, weighed in on the GOP-controlled Congress repeal and replace of Obamacare.

POLITICO captured the moment.

“[Congressional Republicans are] going to fix Obamacare – I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

He called all the talk about fast action on a new health package wildly optimistic. “I started laughing,” Boehner, who never saw a Democratic plan he wouldn’t cave to, said. “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there,”

In a nutshell, Boehner, if he’s not just trolling Congress, believes that the signature issue that carried the GOP to dominance since 2010 and into the White House will be laid in the grave, along with Republican chances in 2018.

Listen, Republican Members of Congress and Senators, whatever this man says, do the opposite. He says you can’t agree on health care. So agree to get 100 percent rid of Obamacare and put something in its place that isn’t a train-wreck doomed to fail. If you don’t, when you lose at the ballot box, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Boehner’s ‘Lucifer’ Was Good For The GOP

John Boehner should really have some sympathy for the devil.

The Former House Speaker’s “Lucifer” comments about GOP conservative standard-bearer Sen. Ted Cruz would have incited a bar fight back when Boehner still owned the family business. But aside from the personal vendetta, why should he hate Cruz so much?*

It’s certainly not about the doomsayer results of the 2013 shutdown that Cruz championed. That shutdown allowed Boehner to knuckle down on all opposition (read: conservatives) for a whole year, and blame Cruz while he did it.

When Cruz tried to work things out with Boehner, Cruz said “John Boehner’s response was, ‘I have no interest in talking,'”

A year later, The Atlantic declared Boehner the winner of that showdown, because he crushed the hopes of conservatives for the one best shot at defeating Obamacare.

But post-shutdown, things changed. The negotiators—House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray—actually got together. They worked out a compromise. They hit the deadline. And then both houses of Congress passed it. Over the past year, House Republicans had repeatedly humiliated Boehner by refusing to go along with his legislative gambits; nothing makes a speaker look worse than having to withdraw a vote because his own side won’t support him. But in this case, despite criticism from conservative outside groups like Heritage Action, House Republicans overwhelmingly supported Boehner, 169 to 62.

Boehner also took the opportunity to strengthen his position relative to those outside groups. For too long, he and other Republican leaders felt, Heritage, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and other self-appointed arbiters of conservative purity had been yanking members of Congress around, warning of consequences if they voted the wrong way. The groups were among the cheerleading chorus that brought about the shutdown by insisting on defunding Obamacare. Yet after the shutdown ended, Heritage Action’s CEO admitted, in a televised interview, that defunding was an impossible goal as long as Obama remains in office. For Boehner, that was the last straw, proving that the groups didn’t care about being realistic or constructive. In December, before the budget deal came up for a vote, he publicly thumbed his nose at the groups: “Frankly, I just think that they have lost all credibility,” he said.

The liberals won, and Cruz lost the good fight (notice the liberal use of the words “good outcome”).

But it’s hard to imagine any of these good outcomes—a yearlong budget agreement, a less unruly House GOP, the possibility of immigration reform—had Boehner not allowed the shutdown to play out the way it did.

At the time, it seemed crazy. But in retrospect, it looks like John Boehner won.

But what about the 2014 midterm Congressional races? Didn’t Cruz doom the GOP? That’s the narrative. But it’s not true.

The GOP picked up 8 Senate seats in 2014, two more than needed to gain control of the upper chamber. Not a single Republican incumbent lost. Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Tim Johnson, John Walsh and Tom Harkin all retired and were replaced with Republicans. Retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat was easily filled by David Perdue.

In the House, the GOP net gained 13 seats, increasing their majority. In fact, Republicans only lost 3 incumbent elections (winning 16).

There was no disaster, and Boehner’s lordly power only increased after the shutdown. But ultimately, that led to his ouster. After the 2014 GOP rout of the Democrats, it was Ted Cruz who stood up first.

“Americans … have risen up and retired Harry Reid as [Senate] majority leader,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Fox News at 20 minutes past midnight.

Cruz added: “Now that we have won the election it is incumbent on Republicans to stand up and lead. … Americans don’t necessarily trust Republicans; they’ve given us another chance.”

Emboldened by the win, 41 Congressmen formed the House Freedom Caucus, led by Boehner’s fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan. Boehner’s days were numbered, and at that point, Cruz really became the devil for him (before that, he was just another annoying conservative, perhaps a bit more annoying than most).

Boehner played his own politics the way he played the GOP’s politics: Winning the battle only to lose the war. He would rather have capitulated to the Democrats and left well enough alone without a shutdown. But he let Cruz and the others have their shutdown, hoping it would lead to a spanking at the polls. If that had happened, Boehner would still be speaker, and he would be thanking Ted Cruz for it.

Instead, conservatives won, and the GOP should thank Cruz for it, because the party is better off without the bully Boehner. The only way to stop bullies is to stand up to them, and voters respond to that kind of courage. In this race, Ted Cruz is the only remaining candidate whose actions stand up to his words.


*NBC News noted that Cruz was even Boehner’s lawyer during a 1998 case that dragged on for six years. Even then, they didn’t talk much. “If I had said 50 words to John Boehner in my life, I would be surprised,” Cruz said.


John Boehner’s Enablers Are Now Shocked At The Spending

There is a branch of the Republican Party that stocks most of the Republican punditry corps on television, fills the op-ed pages and editorial pages of right leaning papers, and gets together to toast themselves each year at the CPAC, among other places. They turn their nose up at the conservative grassroots. They hate the tea party. And they will defend till the death John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the leadership.

In the voices and writings of these pundits and enablers, the Republican leaders were dealt a bad hand. Conservative activists are new to the scene and just don’t understand or don’t care. We should trust the leadership and understand that they are up against a President of the United States.

Above all else, we need to know that shutting down the government never works and will always get only the Republicans blamed and the GOP will lose seats.

These enablers and excuse makers are now shocked and horrified at the deal John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have cut with Barack Obama. It is, in their minds, a total cave. They cannot believe that the Republican leaders would do this to the public and to themselves and betray the ideals of incrementally limiting government.

They have no one to blame but themselves.

For four years, conservative activists have been fighting the Republican leaders and these enablers have defended and emboldened the Republican leadership. They have attacked the conservatives as hobbits and trolls and wackobirds. They have denounced Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Jim Jordan, Jim Bridenstine, and so many more who have fought. They have drummed up hit pieces against FreedomWorks, Heritage Action for America, the Heritage Foundation, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Club For Growth, Madison Project, and more.

They have created their very own echo chamber wherein John Boehner and the Republican Leaders never had to fight because they would be praised for being adults and practical. They whine on Rightblogs about the nasty and uncompromising and unreasonable purists who, they have convinced themselves, are just trying to make money off chaos — a presumption made because they presume everyone else shares their lack of principle.

Now these enablers are upset at what is really and truly a gigantic cave by the Republicans in Congress.

We told you so.

Once these people took the use of the power of the purse off the table, there was no way the Republican Leaders could do anything else. All Barack Obama had to do was threaten a government shutdown and the leadership and their cheerleaders would cave.

Republican leaders will not fight because they do not have to fight because they know that editorialists, pundits, and donors will pat them on the back and say “tough break.” Well, it is — for the country.

John Boehner is Resigning

Speaker John Boehner has announced that he is stepping down. This is huge news. He’ll resign from Congress altogether.

Boehner has increasingly faced a Republican House of Representatives unwilling to continue to support him.

In the past few months, conservatives have had more and more substantive talks with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who, though he hasn’t blessed a coup, has largely turned a blind eye. Increasingly, Boehner alienated the hawks, the fiscal conservatives, and the social conservatives over not just his deals, but his failures of leadership.

Conservatives determined they could no longer do business with Boehner and Congressman Mark Meadows dropped a Motion to Vacate the Chair. Prior to the August recess it looked like Boehner could survive it. But plotting over the recess made it clear it was less and less likely that Boehner had the votes.

A clear warning sign was a few weeks ago when his friend and loyal ally, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, signaled that he thought Boehner was at the end of the line.

This morning Boehner told his colleagues that he would be resigning.

The One Thing You Must Understand About Boehner Resigning

“Had Boehner and his staff just treated his Republican congressman nicely, this would not have happened.”

If you are going to prognosticate, pound your chest, and lament that John Boehner is resigning from Congress on October 30th, don’t blame conservatives.

The truth is that conservatives alone did not have the votes to end John Boehner’s tenure. Conservatives may not like it that I say this, but it is true. There were only twenty or so conservatives holding fast against Boehner, but their numbers did grow closer to thirty, which put Boehner in need of Democratic votes.

That said, Boehner was losing more than thirty votes in the end and whoever is the next Speaker should understand why.

Mathematically, there are only about 21 conservatives in the House of Representatives who are repeatedly anti-Boehner. That John Boehner cut bad deals with President Obama or that John Boehner negotiated with Mitch McConnnell or even that John Boehner wanted to fund Planned Parenthood really was not going to affect that.

What was affecting Boehner was an increasing unwillingness to give anyone a seat at the table he did not like. Conservatives knew they could not do business with Boehner, but it became increasingly obvious that no one else could do business with Boehner if they were not already in his club. He relied more and more on outside voices, which played to caricatures of an out of touch Speaker.

Months ago, I got wind of news that conservatives were whispering with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, a number of them told me, was “transactional,” meaning they did not think McCarthy was a conservative, but he wanted to get business done and would give them a seat at the table. That set conservatives in motion to try to come up with the votes to block Boehner come January 2017.

However, everyone was thrown a curveball. After getting ousted from his sub-committee Chairmanship on orders by John Boehner, Congressman Mark Meadows filed a “motion to vacate the chair.” It is a unique motion in the House of Representatives that could force the Speaker’s ouster by majority vote. No one, including the conservatives, thought Boehner was in trouble.

But over the August recess, congressmen went home and were increasingly alarmed by voter anger. Likewise, Presidential candidates began calling Boehner out on the campaign trail to great applause. It was a sign that there was a problem. Boehner loyalists like Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) began openly talking about the end game for Boehner and that Boehner did not have the votes to survive a challenge.

When congress came back from recess, they were confronted by Planned Parenthood videos, news that Boehner’s chief healthcare staffer was the sister of the President of StemExpress, the group profiting from harvesting children’s organs, the Iran deal, and continuing resolution, and soon the debt ceiling. Boehner had no strategy to navigate the waters and immediately closed his door to conservatives.

He then alienated war hawks by his handling of the Iran deal and defense spending. He seemed to have no plan on the debt ceiling to ameliorate the conservatives of fiscal hawks. Yesterday, he dragged some conservative members into his office and they held firm, giving him no wiggle room on the continuing resolution.

Boehner lost the ability to bully conservatives because outside conservative groups started making those guys heroes and household names for standing up to Boehner. Conservatives built themselves infrastructure to fundraise for themselves when Boehner shut off K Street spigots.

And now Boehner had closed his doors not just to social conservatives, but fiscal conservatives and war hawks. All he had left were a small group of moderates and the assistance of the Democrats. He could not survive a motion to vacate the chair with that. He had to resign.

John Boehner is out not because of bad deals, but because of bad manners. He wanted to be Speaker of the House, but increasingly only acted as Speaker for those members of congress he liked. At first that included more Democrats than conservatives. But in the end, it included more Democrats than Republicans at all.

Had Boehner and his staff just treated his Republican congressman nicely, this would not have happened. That is what you must understand.

The biggest winner here is not Kevin McCarthy the Majority Leader and now probably the next Speaker, but Heritage Action for America. The outside activist group has shown it can help conservatives whether being marginalized by House Leadership and reassured men on the inside that there was a majority on the outside who supported them and could help them. Knowing that kept conservatives on the inside emboldened and able to keep moving forward without fear of retribution from leadership.

Because He Fights!

Ask Donald Trump supporters why they support him and the answer typically is reduced to “He fights!” It’s become both a rallying cry for Trump supporters and a source of derision for those who oppose him.

But the fact is, Republican leaders don’t fight. They won’t fight. They are too committed to not losing that they lose. They will not take risks. They are too interested in being like. And they have surrounded themselves with sycophants in the press who encourage their surrender.

On November 20, 2014, Mitch McConnell promised a forceful response on immigration. His response was to run to court and let a judge handle it. He did not do anything.

Time and again the Republicans have caved. They will not fight. So disaffected people tired of broken promises have turned to Donald Trump because, hey, he fights!

Now lives are literally on the line. Undercover videos show Planned Parenthood slicing and dicing up children. The children are then sold for parts. Confronted with this monstrous business, Republicans in Congress have decided to attack conservatives and do nothing. They will keep funding going to Planned Parenthood because they’d rather lose than try.

Democrats were willing to blow up their majority by passing Obamacare. Many of them knew they could be going down in flames in 2010, which is why they had to rely on retiring members. They were willing to take the hit to do what they perceived as the right thing.

Republicans in Congress either do not perceive defunding Planned Parenthood to be the right they or they simply will not fight. Either way, they should be replaced.

John Boehner’s Career At An End

The Politico is warning that John Boehner’s career is coming to an end. He probably can withstand vacating the chair, but he cannot stand for Speaker again. The votes are not there.

Behind the scenes, I don’t think people realize that Kevin McCarthy is already plotting and is described by various conservative congressmen as “transactional” in a way that Boehner is not. This further undermines Boehner in a way he probably did not expect.

He has all along assured himself that conservatives would rather him than McCarthy and, for a long time, that was true. But conservatives would rather McCarthy to Scalise and in the past year McCarthy has shown them that he is transactional in his dealings with them and not automatically aligned against them in the way Boehner is.

That, in fact, is ultimately Boehner’s undoing. His ruin has nothing to do with bad deals that he has cut. It has nothing to do with being caught between conservatives and the President. It has nothing to do with a failure to push a conservative agenda.

It has everything to do with his outright contempt for his fellow members of Congress. Boehner and a great deal of his staff convey outright disgust with conservatives in the House and with the base in general. Consequently, the base and members of the House in turn hold him in contempt.

Whoever is going to be Speaker will cut bad deals conservatives hate. But the Speaker who is successful will do so while not holding his conservative colleagues in contempt. Again, McCarthy has made it clear he is at least transactional with conservatives and understands them. That, in and of itself, has gone a long way toward ultimately undermining Boehner.