- LaTourette on Remembering Boehner’s Time in Congress
- October 26, 2015
- Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
- On Sunday, Politico ran a piece by former U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), President of McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies, on Speaker Boehner’s time in Congress. We have included the full text of the op-ed below:
When I was younger, the sound of “last call” at the bar was always a little sad. So it was on Friday, as the bar owner’s son from Ohio announced his last call and resignation.
For more than 20 years, House Speaker John Boehner was my friend, adviser, leader and, once in a while, a guy who needed a little help from his friends, too. While his announcement was a stunner, his decision to protect the House instead of his personal ambition didn’t surprise his friends at all. In the end, it was his greatest strength that would become his Achilles’ heel: His love of the institution and his unwillingness to crush the rebellion in his conference early on led directly to the end of his speakership.
The signs of rebellion actually surfaced on the very first piece of major legislation during his leadership: H.R. 1, an omnibus spending bill to finish the nation’s budget for the fiscal year. After the heavy hands of his predecessors, Tom “The Hammer” DeLay and Nancy Pelosi, both of whom used the Rules Committee to limit amendments and stifle dissenting voices, John told the conference he wanted to return to open rules — permitting any member, Republican or Democrat, to offer an amendment, debate it and get a vote on it. But after making H.R. 1 subject to an open rule, John’s reward was to be treated to one of the most bizarre legislative exercises any of us in the House could remember. Some of us Republicans expected the Democrats, recently dispatched to the minority, to use the chance to stall the bill. Instead, it was the far right-wing Republicans ushered in by the 2010 tea party wave who filed hundreds of amendments to attack a bill drafted by a Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee.
Some amendments were legitimate legislative initiatives, but some were just, well, stupid. Two of them stand out in my memory. The first proposed to prohibit the use of federal funds for President Barack Obama’s teleprompter. The second would have eliminated $3 million designated in the bill for electrical upgrades at the White House, to replace outdated and dangerous wiring. Are you kidding me? The country was trillions of dollars in debt and the debate in the House was focused on poking the president.
Despite what could be seen as a sign of trouble to come, John saw the glass as half-full and simply believed that certain members were blowing off a little steam. In the end, he thought that giving his troops more freedom and opportunity would eventually lead them to rally around the whole party’s goals. Boy, was he wrong. His steady temperament and desire to treat every member with respect and friendship was repaid with plots and palace intrigue - an internal rebellion that would span his speakership and intensify as time went on.
Despite this, John refused to go after his critics, as he proved during the redistricting process in Ohio after the 2010 U.S. Census. The state was to lose two seats, and John appointed me, the representative from Ohio’s 14th Congressional District, to communicate with the state Legislature and speak for the wishes of our delegation. John’s first instruction was that each party would lose one seat. The partisans went wild. They argued that Republicans controlled all the levers of power in the redistricting process and that the Democrats should lose both seats. John said no.
His second decision centered around Rep. Jim Jordan, a fellow Ohio Republican. Jordan was a few years away from founding the conservative Freedom Caucus, but it was clear that he, though a very nice guy, was never going to be a “go along to get along” member. I fielded a number of calls from members and John’s allies in Ohio suggesting that the map we would send to Columbus should target Jordan’s district and remove him from the picture. I mentioned the feedback to John, and he gave me a one-word answer: “No.” So, the map we suggested instead ended up disadvantaging Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton. In a deal struck with the Ohio Democratic Party, which sought protect Rep. Marcy Kaptur and keep Montgomery County whole, the odd man out, in the end, was Rep. Steve Austria, who was put into a district in which he couldn’t win the primary. Both Turner and Austria were supporters of the speaker, and both were understandably upset by John’s decision.
I will always remember one particular act of kindness during the 2004 campaign, in which I faced a difficult reelection. My Democratic opponent was a self-funder who was spending vast sums for ads that used my recent divorce as a basis to label me a liar. One Saturday, I was in my campaign headquarters in Mentor, Ohio, when a bus rolled into the parking lot. The door opened, a huge cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out, and there stood John. He said, “You look like your dog just died and you’ve lost your last friend. Let’s go knock on some doors.” So, he, Rep. Jim Saxon of New Jersey, a good friend of John’s who was also on the bus, and I spent the afternoon talking to voters. The positive responses we received dispelled many of my fears and rebutted my instincts to hide away until the election, which I went on to win.
John’s resignation demonstrates again his love for the Congress and his friends. If there had been a vote on the motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, he would have prevailed, despite the efforts of the noisy few who are celebrating his departure. However, not only did he believe that such a vote would be detrimental to the House, he was struck by how many of those on Team Boehner said they would be supportive but really didn’t want to have to cast the vote. When I told John in 2012 that I was leaving the House, he asked why I didn’t stay until 2014 and leave when he and Tom Latham of Iowa planned to depart. Latham did retire, but John stayed on after Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary defeat last year. In recent months, John made it clear to his friends, once again, that he didn’t want to be the issue. Preventing another government shutdown became his singular focus. To spare the House the spectacle and his friends the vote, John moved up his timetable of departure. In the end, he realized that when you’re dealing with a group that is willing to kill the hostage, being a nice guy isn’t enough anymore.