On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
How could I resist a book by former Speaker John Boehner after seeing all of the great blurbs about Ted Cruz? Well, I could not. Boehner gives us a breezy, easy to read book that has some interesting observations, about himself, the Republican Conference he led, and some of the interesting people he interacted with in a long legislative career. What Boehner has said, in his publicity for the book, is that if you are looking for a book on public policy this is not the book for you. He was and is correct on that score.
Speaker Boehner starts the book with a nod to Speaker Pelosi, giving us a view of her political skills by highlighting her political unraveling of Democratic Congressman, and Dean of the House, John Dingell. Boehner wants to show us how power is exercised in Washington, and in so doing expresses a grudging respect for Speaker Pelosi. Boehner moves through the book without a lot of attention to sequencing, but makes the points he is looking to get across.
Boehner was actually a comeback kid, having achieved leadership with the ascent of Newt Gingrich, but he was deposed from his spot as Chair of the Republican Conference by JC Watts. He gave us the story about his work in exposing some of the check-kiting shenanigans involved in the House Bank scandal, and speculates that his loss to Watts was partially attributable to his work in exposing some key Republican power brokers involved in that scandal. (There were more than a few Democrats involved as well.)
Boehner gives us a pretty straight forward view of the GOP conference that he came to lead as Speaker, and it is not a pretty sight. John Boehner became Speaker at a time when the political ground was shifting, and old assumptions about the motivations of members were no longer safe to make. He brings us to the 2013 political fight over raising the national debt ceiling, which turned into a debacle for Boehner and the GOP. This political fight, in Boehner’s view, was a foreseeable disaster. The House GOP conference, in the majority, took the position that they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government unless President Obama agreed to the elimination of Obama Care. It really was quite clear to any thinking person that this gambit would not only fail but leave the GOP with the political blame for the government shutdown. I think this shutdown and the political fall out for the GOP crystalized Boehner’s complaint with the “crazy caucus” that he was the leader of. Even though he was a Senator Ted Cruz played a large role in influencing the so-called crazies of the GOP House Conference, and Boehner gets his licks in here.
“There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen meet Senator Ted Cruz.” On the House, Boehner, John pg. 168
Boehner did advise against this foolhardy move, but when the will of the caucus was expressed he led the fight, as he felt it was his obligation to do. There was never any chance of getting President Obama to agree to that bargain, and sure enough, after a government shutdown of 17 days the GOP Conference, and Speaker Boehner, were forced to capitulate without defunding Obama Care.
Speaker Boehner gives us several examples of poor political judgement by the “crazy caucus” but they are all similar to the 2013 shutdown. He came to recognize the new power of Fox News, and he counted that outlet as contributing to the power of the “crazy caucus.” The crazier the actions, the more time you got on Fox, according to Boehner. He came to recognize that this newly empowered “infrastructure” was not only a source of power but provided a way to raise barrels of money for many folks in his caucus. The Speaker of the House simply did not have the type of power that Speakers had in the past. There was a new center of gravity for conservatives.
Speaker Boehner gives us a view of his family life, and how he worked in the family business, a tavern that served a working-class constituency in Ohio. Some nice stories on President Gerald Ford and former Notre Dame football coach Gerry Faust, who Boehner played for in high school. Boehner gives us some great tidbits on John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Mark Meadows, and Fox news head honcho Roger Ailes. As mentioned, the book is breezy, and I think entertaining. (The feelings expressed on Cruz are shared by many in the GOP) Boehner gives us his views without getting into the weeds, which was never his style anyway. He definitely pulled no punches and evened a couple of scores, but in these times it is to be expected. I enjoyed it, and do believe it would make for a pretty good summer read.
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