Speaker of the House John Boehner holds up the gavel after being re-elected on the first day of the 113th Congress at the Capitol in Washington. Photo by Reuters
Speaker of the House John Boehner holds up the gavel after
being re-elected on the first day of the 113th Congress at
the Capitol in Washington. Photo by Reuters
Despite a rocky few weeks during the "fiscal cliff"
fight, John Boehner won re-election as speaker of the House of
Representatives and will again lead Republicans as they take on
the White House over federal spending.
Boehner defeated House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi 220-192
in a vote on the opening day of the 113th Congress and vowed
to use his second term to shrink the national debt of $US16
trillion to prevent it from "draining free enterprise."
The Ohio congressman narrowly avoided the embarrassment of
having to go to a second round of voting, as 12 conservatives
held back their support for him. It was the closest margin of
any speaker vote since 1997.
But without a challenger from inside his party, Boehner's
re-election was never in doubt even though he has struggled
to control an unruly group of fiscal conservatives in his
True to form, the often emotional Boehner shed a tear or two
as he took the gavel and spelled out the challenges ahead.
"Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is
not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems,"
"At $US16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining
free enterprise and weakening the ship of state."
Questions were asked about Boehner's speakership when
conservative Tea Party-backed lawmakers delivered him a
stinging defeat in December by rejecting a proposal of his
during talks with President Barack Obama to raise taxes on
Boehner also came under fire for voting on Tuesday for a
compromise deal to prevent the U.S. economy from falling off
the so-called fiscal cliff and for being slow to approve aid
for victims of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast.
A tough job
"Being speaker today is no bargain, I tell you," Republican
Representative Peter King of New York told MSNBC's "Morning
Widely seen as having lost the "fiscal cliff" fight with
Obama by accepting tax increases, congressional Republicans
are keen for a rematch and they will get the chance soon.
Debate is likely to be fierce when lawmakers deal with
planned spending cuts for military and domestic programs that
are due to start in February. Around that time, Congress is
likely to take up the thorny issue of extending the "debt
ceiling" - the limit of how much the federal government can
Boehner was the Republicans' front man in fiscal talks with
Obama but stepped aside for Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell who struck a dramatic New Year's Eve deal with Vice
President Joe Biden.
The stress of recent weeks seems to have got to Boehner, who
cursed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White
House twice after a meeting last week, according to Senate
Reid had accused the Republican of running a "dictatorship"
in the House and being more interested in keeping his
speakership than in cutting a fiscal deal.
The son of a bar owner, Boehner had a tough upbringing. He
shared one bathroom with his 11 siblings and worked in the
family business while still a child.
He was elected speaker after the 2010 midterm elections when
a Tea Party surge helped Republicans take the House from the
Pelosi, his predecessor and now Democratic minority leader,
presented the gavel again to Boehner on Thursday just after
he won re-election.
"I know all too well that we will not always agree," Pelosi
said. "But I hope, with all my heart that we find common
ground that is a higher, better place for our country."
Fellow Republicans, not Democrats, have been landing some of
the toughest blows on Boehner, notably New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie who launched a tirade against the speaker for
postponing an anticipated vote on a $60 billion storm aid
package for the victims of Sandy.
King, who was among Boehner's critics, was more forgiving on
Thursday after the speaker agreed to abruptly reverse course
and set a timetable to approve the storm relief.
"John is really a voice of reason in our conference, despite
some of the things I said yesterday," King told NBC's
Seeking to explain the difficulties of Boehner's job,
Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, borrowed a
line from fellow southerner Bill Frist, who once described
leading Republicans in the Senate as: "It's a lot like being
a caretaker of a cemetery - a lot of people under you but