West Chester's favorite son — who is now second in line to the presidency — doesn't come off well in the lengthy article by political writer Matt Taibbi, who quotes both named and anonymous sources from both sides of the political aisle who have worked with Boehner over the years.
Here is Taibbi's description of Boehner, from the second paragraph: “He's a five-tool insider who can lie, cheat, steal, play golf, change his mind on command and do anything else his lobbyist buddies and campaign contributors require of him to get the job done.”
Ouch. And it gets more severe after that.
As expected, included is the well-known anecdote about the Orange One passing out checks from tobacco lobbyists to Republican lawmakers on the House floor in 1995, shortly before they were to vote on tobacco industry subsidies.
But also mentioned are less familiar tales about Boehner, including the weekly meetings he holds with “The Thursday Group,” comprised of lobbyists from Citigroup, MillerCoors, UPS, Goldman Sachs, Google and R.J. Reynolds.
Also included is the encounter he had with then-Congressman Steve Driehaus (D-Price Hill) last year, after Driehaus voted for the health-care reform bill.
Here's the excerpt:
Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.
"I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'"
Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work."
Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize."
And here's what Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Boehner's predecessor as House Speaker, candidly says about his propensity for breaking into tears at odd moments.
“The cryfests have left Democrats rolling their eyes. 'He cries sometimes when we're having a debate on bills,' grumbled Nancy Pelosi. 'If I cry, it's about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don't cry.'”
Sounds to me like Pelosi could take him in a fistfight.
Boehner, 61, is a Reading native who graduated from Moeller High School and was a plastics salesman before joining Congress in 1991. He's since been reelected 10 times with little opposition, and ran unopposed in 1994 during the height of Newt Gingrich-mania.
Other descriptions of Boehner in the article include:
** “the quintessential example of the kind of glad-handing, double-talking, K Street toady who has dominated the politics of both parties for decades;”
** “not so much as a bloodless partisan but as a clueless yutz;”
** that there exists in Washington a “perception of Boehner as more clown than tyrant;”
** along with “the widespread belief on the Hill that he doesn't really have much, if any, control over his Republican members.”
As an example of Boehner's “irrepressible hackosity,” Taibbi cites an instance when he once confused quotes from the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence at a public rally of true believers.
Most interesting, however, is Taibbi's account of Boehner's uneasy relationship with the burgeoning Tea Party movement.
He writes, “It's hard to imagine that in all of American political history there has been a more unlikely marriage than John Boehner and the pitchfork-wielding, incumbent-eating Tea Party, whose blood ostensibly boils at the thought of business as usual. Because John Boehner is business as usual, a man devoted almost exclusively to ensuring his own political survival by tending faithfully to the corrupt and clanking Beltway machinery. How? Let us count the ways.”
And then Taibbi does.
Taibbi interviews Chris Littleton, head of the Ohio Liberty Council, who remains wary of Boehner and his ilk.
“This is why in some states the Republican Party fought so fiercely against the Tea Party; in Ohio, the party spent nearly $1 million campaigning to stop Tea Party candidates from assuming jobs at the state level. 'They hate us more than they hate the left,' says Littleton. 'The left's just an enemy. We present a legitimate threat to them.'”
Although Rolling Stone's article broaches Boehner's rumored hard partying ways, a blog that's raising eyebrows takes it even further.
Drunk Boehner: The John Boehner Booze Watch chronicles the congressman's alleged excesses over the years. The blog was begun in November 2008, but became more active last year, perhaps in anticipation of Boehner's ascendency.
Oy. Somebody pass me a cocktail.