Ten of John Boehner’s 11 brothers and sisters were on hand for his swearing-in as House speaker Wednesday. The Daily Beast talks to them about the bus trip from Ohio and growing up Boehner—and catches up with the one sibling missing the party. Plus, 14 things you need to know about the 112th Congress.
At the new speaker of the House’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, America met 10 of John Boehner’s 11 brothers and sisters, who grew up working together mopping floors and doing chores at their father’s bar in Reading, Ohio. The Republican leader has never been known to hold back his famous emotions, and one thing that always chokes him up is recalling his and his siblings’ humble roots.
Many of the Boehner clan, joined by local friends and extended family, boarded one of three buses that left Reading at 6 a.m. Tuesday for the 10-hour trip from a local country club, where the speaker, an avid golfer, is a member.
On Tuesday night, the Boehner group was treated to a reception at the Capitol Hill Club, and siblings, nephews, and cousins, along with Ohio friends, celebrated Boehner’s swearing-in as the most powerful Republican in Washington. Entering the party, several relatives stopped to greet a member of Boehner’s security detail with whoops of “Big Dog!”
Boehner’s brother Steve, who pronounced the bus ride “not too bad,” called the moment “surreal,” adding with a laugh that his elder brother was always the one most likely to become speaker.
“Nobody realized he would ever get that far, but he’s always had this ambition to go further and further,” Steve Boehner said.
The eldest of the 12 siblings, Bob, said it hit him that his brother would take down Nancy Pelosi on election night. “We’re just extremely proud and anxious and to get on with the program,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this since election night, but we’re all extremely proud and excited. He’s my little brother and I love him to death.”
The only one missing of the 12 was Greg Boehner, No. 7, who told The Daily Beast that because he owns two restaurants in Georgia, he had to decide between going home to Ohio for Christmas and seeing his grandchildren and other siblings, or going to his older brother’s swearing-in. Greg Boehner is the only sibling who lives outside Ohio and said he is used to missing family events but will be watching the swearing-in at home.
“You got to do what you got to do,” he said. “I’m proud of him. We’re all proud of him. I hope he does a good job.”
Greg Boehner said he did not see his brother, who is the second eldest, at Christmas but did catch him in October when he was in the area stumping for Austin Scott, who went on to win the 8th Congressional District seat in Georgia. Greg acknowledged that he’s “not real close” with his brother but said that even though John was not the eldest child, he was “speaker of the House” for their house in Reading.
“When [John] was 18 or 19 years old and out of high school, he’d go out to work and tell us kids, ‘I want the grass cut, the house cleaned up’... He was the speaker of the house then.”
“When he was 18 or 19 years old and out of high school, he’d go out to work and tell us kids, ‘I want the grass cut, the house cleaned up,’” said Greg. “He’d come home and if it wasn’t done, there would be chaos for some of the older ones. He was the speaker of the house then.”
“I’m tired of paying taxes, kind of like him. I work to pay bills, that’s the way I look at it. I haven’t paid myself for three months. Taxes eat me up,” he said. “I’m hoping he can fix some of that.”
Rep. Boehner famously said he understood the pain of Americans who were out of work because his own siblings were struggling, although he was not sure whether they had been able to find work again.
“I’ve got real empathy for those who are unemployed, as most of you know I’ve got 11 brothers and sisters. I know that three of my brothers lost their jobs, I’m not sure whether they’ve found jobs, yet, so I’ve got a lot of empathy for those caught in this economic downturn,” he said in July.
Greg Boehner said he believed that two of of the brothers who were out of work, Bob and Rick, were now employed.
John Boehner and 10 of his siblings were also recently reunited for an interview with CBS News’ Lesley Stahl. The new speaker told Stahl that with so many kids there was no room to fight: “The only difference between six or seven and 12 is the chaos lasts longer.”
But what about on that 10-hour bus voyage from Ohio to Washington?
Cousin Jim Boehner said it was “pretty quiet” and “very reflective.”
“The fact is that we’re a close family. We’re very proud of John. We’re just humble people,” he added.
Nephew Josh, son of brother Pete, said they passed the time telling family stories. “Just lots of memories of Christmas past, things like that, the family’s old house and the bar,” he said. “I’m glad I’m able to get here, I’m proud of everything he’s gone through, everything he’s gotten to.”
And as for the famous Boehner tears, Bob called them a family trait, but Greg said he just was not sure. “I’ve never been in his shoes or in his position. I don’t know,” he said.
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.