John Boehner Keeps the Speakership for Two More Years

Howard Kurtz on why the Speaker got to keep his job, even though he’s struggling to keep control of his members.

A battered John Boehner gets to hang on to his job for another two years.

It was hardly a surprise when House Republicans, at the start of the 113th Congress, voted Thursday to keep the Ohio lawmaker as their speaker. Despite some rumblings in the press, his job was never seriously threatened.

Most Republican members like Boehner personally and appreciate his low-key style. There’s also an iron law in politics that you can’t beat something with nothing. With no prominent challenger having emerged, Boehner was always going to skate to a second two-year term.

Boehner won with 220 votes, although there were eight defectors and four abstentions—a small, but unmistakable protest vote. The Republican majority in the House has been reduced to 17 seats, and the most conservative faction would have needed only that many votes to force a second round of balloting.

By any conceivable measure, Boehner has had a rough two years. The fiscal-cliff negotiations turned into a nightmare when he couldn’t produce enough votes for his own Plan B alternative. With Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell taking the lead, Boehner was sidelined at the end, and the final bill was passed with far more Democratic votes than Republican. Boehner was abandoned even by his two top deputies, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy.

While he was boxed in by the cliff deadline and the reelection results, Boehner presided over the first major tax increase in more than decades that was passed with substantial Republican votes—and under a Democratic president.

And for good measure, members of Boehner’s own party blasted him for failing to bring up the Hurricane Sandy aid bill.

He didn’t have a great 2011, either, having brought the country to the brink of default when his caucus balked at raising the federal-debt ceiling in another down-to-the-wire drama. Little wonder that Boehner now says he won’t negotiate one-on-one with President Obama anymore, but will try to fashion House legislation that can pass the Senate.

And, as I noted this morning, this Congress was the least productive in modern history, passing just 219 bills—although Boehner’s House did manage to repeal Obamacare more than 30 times. (Psst: It’s still the law of the land.)

He is a merlot-sipping, cigarette-smoking golfer who, were it up to him, would have reached a grand bargain with Obama on taxes and spending. But his fractious caucus would not go along.

Now Boehner has two more years to try to whip the other 232 Republican House members into something resembling a governing coalition.